So, I’ve always been quite partial a mushroom or three. Never have I turned my nose up at the odd gourmet treat of wild mushroom risotto or even a stroganoff concocted from the humble cultivated mushroom. When I was a child, before I realised how deadly some wild fungi could be, one of my fondest memories was picking field and horse mushrooms with my family whilst on holiday in a caravan on the west cost. Thankfully then, I was blissfully unaware how dangerous that little expedition was. My parents had no expertise, no books or field guides and relied on the mushroom smell and ‘peel-ability’ to identify the edible varieties! Old wives tales such as ‘if it peels easily then it’s edible’ were common, and still are in some circles, You only have to witness how easily a death cap peels to realise how dangerous this guideline is and unfortunately, this is how a lot of fatalities occur. We got lucky.
Until now, that was where my interest in picking and eating wild mushrooms had begun and ended, but ever since I got started on this food for free, foraging business and particularly since attending Fen Fungi Mushroom Foray, mushrooms have occupied much of my thoughts. Fungi are truly fascinating organisms. Any organism that can grow overnight on practically anything from plants to people, that are found in virtually every habitat, throughout the year, can range in size from the microscopic to the gigantic and can be as simple as a single cell or as complex as the earthstar fungi pictured here, deserves to win our attention. Well, they have won mine, in fact, I am bordering on the obsessed…
No, let’s face it, I am obsessed. I am officially mad about mushrooms, certified fungi fanatic and spore spotter extraordinaire. No longer will I ridicule the twitchers amongst you, or the anoraked, bespectacled train-spotters for that matter… I have succumbed to joining the nerdy ranks of amateur mycologists, those intrepid beings who roam the woods and meadows of this land in search of tasty, elusive and/or rare fungi.
Yesterday me and my trusty hound Jinks went on our own fungi foray in the woods just a short walk from our home. We are lucky to live in an area which is wonderful for foraging with a meadow, a heath, a wetland, a seashore and a wood all within a short drive or walk of our cottage.
It did not take us long to discover a multitude of wonderful fungi, some of them even edible! Here are just a few of the varieties we found:
Parasol Mushrooms (edible), Giant Puffballs (edible), Wood Blewits (edible) Yellow Fieldcap (inedible) Stinkhorns (edible – but I’d rather eat cow dung, which smells better!), Clouded Funnel Mushroom (edible – but makes some people ill, so best avoided), Birch Bracket (edible), Chanterelles (edible), and many more, some of which I have yet to identify.
I still find identifying them accurately a bit of a challenge and so never eat anything that I am not 100% sure about. Blewits are fairly easy to identify by their violet stems and pinkish spore print.
Stinkhorns can be identified easily from their unusual phallic shape and, frankly, their stink!
Birch bracket fungus lives on birch trees, so again is relatively easy to identify. With bracket fungus, the younger specimens are the tastiest as they tend to get tougher with age.
All of these mushrooms were spotted on one day in the meadow and in the woods near my cottage. It truly is amazing the number and variety of species of fungi that exist within such a small area.
Just one morning, wandering about the meadow, heath and woods, and I felt as if I were in an Aladdin’s cave full of fungi treasures. An enjoyable jaunt and one that I hope to repeat again soon. Luckily one of the best things about fungi is how quickly they appear so when I go back tomorrow I will likely find even more varieties to add to my collection. Next time I will be on the trail of the elusive boletes as they are super easy to identify and almost all (in the UK) are safe to eat. So check back soon and hopefully I’ll have a wild mushroom recipe or two to share with you all.
Bye for now from ‘Mad About Mushrooms’ me…