Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mushrooms Galore

Yesterday I took part in a mushroom picking course at Haldon forest near Exeter. I've always been a little nervous when picking mushrooms, you get the obviously edible ones that any idiot can spot, for example the Giant Puffball, which is a football sized type of mushroom and one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. If you are ever lucky enough to find a giant puffball, try slicing it like a loaf of bread and fry it with lots of butter, so tender, meaty and full of flavor. Anyway my point is that from gaining more knowledge on mushrooms I've become more nervous about picking the obscure gems found in our woodland and fields. There are about 900 different fungi in this country and we found about 150 yesterday, which I found a little overwhelming. The expert running the course is a true expert with over 30 years experience studying fungi and he ignorantly only knew the latin names to the mushrooms we found, but I later discovered that most mushrooms only have a latin name. But this expert or mycologist does sometimes get it wrong and can only identify a mushroom when its under a microscope and when he has run a series of tests identifying the spores and other scientific things. The day was an amazing experience but I will certainly stick to the usual common edible fungi and avoid any Death Caps.

Here is a selection showing some of the edible mushrooms my mother (she's a bit of a foraging enthusiast) and I picked yesterday (sorry about the latin names). Cantharellus infundibuliformis, Shaggy ink cap, Calvatia Utriformis, White Helvella and the very tasty Hedgehog Fungus which is easy to identify as it has spiny gills and looks like nothing else. Well, nothing poisonous at least. My mother took the mushrooms home, as I was hugely hungover and couldn't stomach foreign foods, so fingers crossed my inheritance comes in early!

To clarify and stop any media scare mongering, there are only a handful of deadly poisonous fungi and you have to eat the whole cap and normally raw if you want to die, also lots have an accumulative poison, like lead poisoning, so you have to eat the wrong mushroom consistently over a period of time to die. Get a good field guide or the iPhone app if you want to live.

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