As God is my witness, I will find a fungi mentor ahead of next year’s wild mushroom season.
We’re late into the season now, of course, so all I will be able to do over the coming days (or weeks, I’m not quite sure of the time-scale), is look longingly at the fungi which regularly spring up around my house and wonder if they are edible.
Back in the day (when I was spottier, more foolish and with lots more hair), I bought a book called The Mushroom Picker’s Foolproof Field Guide: The Expert Guide to Identifying, Picking and Using Wild Mushrooms. I harboured dreams of waltzing through local woods with the dog, marvelling at nature’s bounty and picking up that evening’s supper – for free – and I resolved to teach myself the do’s and dont’s of mushroom picking. Soon, I told myself, I would be able to tell my Fly Agarics from my Fairy Ring Champignons and I would never want for tasty shrooms ever again.
Very soon though, as in five minutes’ perusal of the book, it became very apparent that I was very much out of my depth. The severely toxic Panther Cap looks like the Blusher (which has to be cooked to remove its toxins); the Wood Blewit is good because it appears late in the season but the downside is, lots of people are allergic to it; the Shaggy Ink Cap can be mistaken for the Magpie Fungus (toxic); the Destroying Angel (deadly dangerous) looks a lot like St George’s Mushroom and the Yellow Stainer accounts for 50 per-cent of mushroom poisoning among people who are looking for Field and Horse mushrooms. Also, whilst the Chanterelle is delicious and highly prized, the False Chanterelle looks alike but isn’t highly prized ie, it would be a gastrointestinal disaster if consumed. Phew!
Needless-to-say, when I discovered that waltzing through the woods looking for a free supper would have to remain a figment of my overactive imagination for the foreseeable, I fired the book into the corner in a huff. The so-called ‘Fool-proof Field Guide’ was more a red flag to stay away from all types of shrooms unless I fancied having a kidney transplant.
“Fat lot of good you are,” I told the book.
Fast-forward to today and I am constantly finding fungi blooming among the lanes around my house. As you can see from the photos, some look more appealing than others and yet, if I knew for a fact that such and such a mushroom was edible, I would not hesitate to pick and then fire into an omelette. Alas, that comprehensive knowledge is badly lacking which is precisely why I need a fungi mentor. Think Mr Miyagi only with less of a penchant for martial arts and more of a predilection for foraging. I could paint his (or her) fence until the cows come home so long as they take me mushroom picking now and again, as next autumn arrives with a sigh. I could even part with a few bottles of home-made mead or next season’s blackberry jam, so as to sweeten the deal.
I have since swallowed down my huff and returned to the The Mushroom Picker’s Foolproof Field Guide: The Expert Guide to Identifying, Picking and Using Wild Mushrooms. It remains as much minefield as it ever was and yet I am increasingly salivating over the glorious pictures therein, especially the Ceps and Chanterelles. I can picture me delicately chopping the wild delicacies before frying in butter and loading onto toast with crème fraiche and a dusting of parmesan for seasoning.
Until then, I’ll have to err on the side of caution and for the benefit of my intestinal tract and kidneys, I’ll be sticking to the mushrooms which arrive via the supermarkets and punnets. Chestnuts for the win!
l PS. If you’re out there, Mr Miyagi of Mushrooms, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org I have mead and blackberry jam.
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