Pickled Pine Rings make me very happy. Having previously attempted numerous way to cook them up fresh, I’ve taken to learning a few secrets from the Eastern Europeans who swear by this age-old practice. However, their traditional method to preserve pine rings is not by pickling them in brine but actually through the process of lacto-fermentation, which I cover a bit further down.
The easily-recognizable orange mushrooms are abundant at the moment and what better way to preserve them throughout the year than by bottling them to savour at a later stage. Now, every forager will have a method of their own to pickle pine rings (or saffron milk caps or red pine mushrooms as they are known throughout the world) but there are three main pickling methods, a sweet pickle, a sour pickle and the lacto-fermentation process. Pine Rings need to be brushed down to free them from any dirt or pine needles stuck to the caps. Once that is done, boil the mushrooms in a pot of salted water for about five minutes. You will notice that they will turn a darker orange and become a bit more firm. I find this process necessary as it greatly improves the end result, making the mushrooms less slimy and allowing them to retain their beautiful orange colour.
The traditional method begins by removing the stems entirely from the caps and arranging the freestanding caps gills-up in a dish or pot. Now, be very generous with course salt. Sprinkle a layer at the base of the dish and then hearty amount all over the first layer of caps. You don’t want to cover them completely in salt, but make sure there’s enough to go around. At this point you can also add some cloves of garlic and sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary or even some bay leaves. Juniper berries add a great touch if you have. Once that is done, place a board or plate on the salt and mushrooms that is heavy enough to weigh them down a little. Repeat the process by layering more caps over the plate and starting again. Once you have a full dish or pot with a top layer of plates, place in the fridge for a week. During this period the salt will draw out moisture from the mushrooms, essentially forming a brine in which the mushrooms pickle. The end result is meaty and flavourful with a definite salt punch. If saltiness is not too much of a thing for you, try soaking the “pickled” mushrooms in water for a few minutes before wiping down with a cloth. They’re ready to eat!
SWEET / SOUR PICKLE
There are two approaches to this method and both of the end results are great. I prefer a sour pickle but sweet is just as great. For a sweet pickle, use white wine vinegar, and for a sour pickle, use rice wine vinegar.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
200g stemless pine ring mushrooms
1/2 cup rice wine / white wine vinegar
250 ml water
100g sugar (sweet pickle only)
a pinch of peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the mushrooms and blanch them in the boiling liquid for no more than 3 minutes. Strain the liquid from the mushrooms and let them cool separately. Once cool, put the mushrooms into a jar and fill it up with the pickling liquid until the mushrooms are covered. Seal the jar and store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.