the magic of mushrooms

edge of charcoal burner (possibly) - edible

There are undoubtedly some dodgy purchases made around christmas time and evidence of some of them are all over twitter and Facebook which is very, very funny. My mum is definitely guilty of some of them!

(possibly) common puffball - edible

Isn’t it great though when you get a superb gift that hits your buttons, will entertain you for hours and may even prove to be quite practical in the end.

roger phillip's mushrooms

JC bought me a mushroom book last year as he knows that I love a bit of food for free, I have always been interested in wild plants and particularly their medicinal properties and that I would love to know what fungi, beyond the easily identified field mushroom (which is about the extent of my knowledge), can be safely eaten.

I have used it but I don’t feel particularly well equipped or sure enough of my identifications and still only really pick field mushrooms, st george’s mushrooms, morels or chanerelle to eat when I am lucky enough to come across them.

the quiet hunt
This year I got Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Complete Mushroom book’.  I also got the all important mushroom knife which Antonio Carluccio has developed to go with his book, the use of which is key to preserving the spores for future fungi.  Who knew, eh?

carluccio's mushroom knife

Best of all though, he is also going to buy an identification course of my choice for fungi foraging that he is actually going to join me on too!!   I’m absolutely delighted (though he may only be joining me to make sure he doesn’t get poisoned).

I’m still incredibly cautious and really don’t have any courage for picking when I really am not remotely confident in my identifying skills but I am always looking while we are out walking and slowly but surely, I am beginning to see some of the differences.

The Antonio Carluccio book has a good selection of fungi for eating but it is generally limited to what he prefers and uses in the recipes at the back. The Roger Philips book is still key to the detail and how to distinguish the minutia that keeps you safe from poisoning.

Both books are great and even though I now read novels on a kindle, there is nothing nicer than a meaty reference book to flick through.  Books, however, are not that easy to carry about so in keeping with the world of apps, I have also downloaded the Roger Phillip’s Mushrooms app for my iPhone. It has similar groupings and visual clues to pin down the correct name of your find but it also has an easy key that helps you reduce the options by allowing you to select colour, edible or not, stem type, cap type, size, how the flesh look and reacts when cut, spore colour and habitat etc.  It’s great and the photographs are every bit as detailed as the book.

shaggy parasol - edible

In the book as in the app, there is information about all the parts that make up the whole identification. For example, not only is the terrain key to breaking down what it MIGHT be, but the surroundings and ground condition is an immediate sign that enables you to eliminate some. Only then can you think about the obvious outward details that differentiate one from another. Once you have reduced the possibilities, then you can get into the detail of the underside, the stem details and many other fine but crucial detail.

the underside and skirt of a shaggy parasol mushroom - edible

Today we found what we think might be one of the shaggy parasol fungi in the spinney while walking the dog. Unlike the simple parasol mushroom which makes good eating, it is edible but may cause gastric upset!!  If it were a Stinking Baby Parasol, it’s quite poisonous. I don’t think the stem is right for the poisonous one but I’m not entirely comfortable that is is edible so I have left well alone.

jelly ear, wood ear or tree ear - edible

Further away,  at the pond, on the rotting trunk of a poplar tree, grow what I think are Wood or Tree Ears and these are edible, albeit that Antonio Carluccio doesn’t rate them for much more than stews.  He may have a point, they aren’t particularly appetising when you see them and the texture is very strange.

hairy curtain crust (possibly) on a beech tree - not edible

Ironically, I am likely to chose a course for foraging that is based in London. I’ve already done my research and they seem to do some of the best but I now have to wait until autumn 2012.

It is a true minefield but I am so excited.  Can I wait that long?

russula family - some are edible

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