Mushrooms are the quiet invaders of the NSW pine plantations.
After the soft autumn rains, they burst upon the scene, enticing people from far afield to visit Oberon in the central west for its famous mushroom season.
Jack Simpson, a specialist in tree diseases with State Forests of NSW, and one of only a handful of mycologists (mushroom experts) in Australia, says pine plantations contain a number of recognisable, good-eating mushrooms.
He says these mushrooms are ectomycorrhizal with the pines, helping the tree to extract nutrients from the soil.
Jack says these mushrooms were introduced from Europe and adapted to relatively cool temperate conditions; therefore they are not as abundant in pine plantations close to the coast or inland NSW as they are on the tablelands.
State Forests of NSW has more that 40,000 hectares of pine plantation around Oberon and places such as Hampton, Jenolan and Vulcan State Forests boast the best mushrooming grounds.
Mushroomers pour into Oberon, often from Sydney, to experience the magic of mushrooming among the pines.
Coveted by top Sydney restaurants, and a delicacy in Europe, the best thing about these exotic fungi is they are free.
Mushrooms need a certain amount of light and warmth, so pickers work around the edge of the plantations, in among the pine needles, with their flat-bottomed baskets - up tails all.
A profusion of languages break the quiet forest air, indicating that many of the pickers inherit their passion from a long line of mushroomers.
Yes, mushroomers are passionate people. They are passionate about the weather, their stomping grounds and their recipes.
Jack says one of the most abundant edible pine mushrooms is the Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius deliciosus). Up to 20 cm in diameter, the cap is orange and bears distinct concentric zones of a slightly darker shade.
Its gills and flesh are orange red to pinkish to apricot, and when broken open, exude a bright¬orange latex.
Jack says Sydney shops have recently started to sell these mushrooms as the Blue Mountains' Blood Mushroom. While he says other people, of a melancholy nature, say this fungus weeps orange tears.
He says it best to avoid the older mushrooms in favour of the young brightly coloured ones. The Saffron Milk Cap should be cooked quickly at a high temperature to avoid stewing. The stalks should be discarded.
Other mushrooms that thrive among the pines are slippery jacks (Suillus granulatus and Suillats luteus) and mousy tricholomas (Tricholonia terreum).
The species of Suillus are sometimes called ceps; they should be peeled before being cooked as the slimy cap may cause gastric upsets.
Jack says it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that you must correctly identify your mushrooms. Some mushrooms are poisonous and will make you extremely sick.
For example, its an old Polish trick to fry the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), the fairytale mushroom from Europe, on a piece of tin and then leave it out to kill flies. - text is based on a State Forests leaflet, June 2003