Wild Mushroom HuntingLittle will entice me out of bed at 7.00am on a misty autumn, morning except the promise a few hours of mushroom hunting. I first stumbled on this great adventure while living in France. I accompanied the Societe Mycologique de Perigord on many Sunday forays - considered a great honor given that I was English and female.
There is an unbelievable whole other world to be discovered scrambling around on the forest floor. The scents, smells, and colors; unimaginable varieties of insect life and countless species of fungi. Serious foragers are not just seeking a few mushrooms for tea; they are looking to identify and hopefully, find new types.
Mushrooms and other fungi are unique. Unlike other plants, they do not convert the sun’s rays into energy. They get nutrition from animal and vegetable matter, living and dead. Without them, we would not exist, as they are solely responsible for breaking down dead matter transforming it into nourishment for continuing life. Without some fungi our stock of basic foods would be lessened. Yeast, which is a fungus, is used in bread, wine and beer. Mold is a fungus and important in many blue cheeses.
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the UK in mushroom hunting and we are blessed with a wealth of species Shaggy Inkcaps, Penny Bun, Puffballs, Chanterelle are among some of the many.
Identifying Wild MushroomsIn most European countries, it is possible to take your find to a local pharmacy for identification if in any doubt about its edibility. This is not available here in the UK so it is important to only forage with experts or use one of the excellent guidebooks available (see below).
Mushroom hunting can be loads of fun but some responsibility is necessary. Carefully follow the guidelines listed below to ensure not only your own safety but also to protect the delicate environment around wild mushrooms.
My First and Most Important Lesson with Wild Mushroom ForagingI was at first allowed to look, initially never to touch, and certainly, until I had passed an initiation test, never to pick. My ‘test’ came after about four forages I was presented with two large capped beauties. My teacher held them firmly in his hand revealing only the top surface and I was asked to identify them. Hurriedly I flicked the pages of my well-read Guide Vert Guide to French mushrooms, and smugly (using the latin) announced their name.
‘Ils sont bon?” demanded the teacher. Asking if they were good was not a question of their morality but their edibility. ‘Oui’ was my prompt reply. He flicked them over and to my horror I saw two different species; one a very tasty edible mushroom, Amanita Caesara, the other, a Muscaria, not one of the deadly varieties but one that would cause quite serious illness. I was horrified. The differences are slight but a trained eye would have known immediately.
I suspect this shock-horror technique is used on all uninitiated to make them aware of the dangers of mushroom picking. Certainly, from then on I have never strayed from the varieties of which I am sure; black trumpets (Horn of Plenty), Chanterelles, Morelles, and Cepes (Penny Bun in the UK, or Porcini in Italian).
Guidelines for Mushroom Hunting
- To make sure what you take home does not become your last supper always forage with experts or use a guidebook. Never, ever pick or eat anything of which you are not sure.
- Wear disposable plastic gloves when handling mushrooms.
- Never mix the mushrooms in your basket.
- Wrap them in paper, never in plastic; the mushrooms need air to breathe.
- Never destroy any mushrooms, even poisonous ones; they are important in the natural cycle.
- Do not trespass on private property.
- Leave the environment as you found it and take all rubbish home.
- It is possible to cut the mushrooms with a knife, but most can be plucked from the ground. The efficient spore distribution will ensure more grow in the same place.
- Collect only the mushrooms you need for you; leave some for others.
Cooking Wild Mushrooms
- Wild mushrooms are delicate, in flavor and texture. They do not respond well to washing so always use a mushroom brush designed for this purpose. Examine each mushroom carefully for insects, slugs or grubs. If the mushroom has been nibbled in any way, discard.
- Some mushrooms, such as Horn of Plenty, are very difficult to clean and can store insects in the horn of the mushroom. For these washing is necessary. Place in a sieve and wash briskly under cold running water. Never soak.
- Wild mushrooms will be at their best on the day they are picked. To store, place in a paper bag in the salad compartment of the fridge or in a cool place.
- Wild mushrooms do not freeze but most will dry well and can then be stored in airtight containers.
Mushroom Picker's Foolproof Field Guide: The Expert Guide to Identifying, Picking and Using Wild Mushrooms
Published by Southwater ISBN 1842158171
Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe
Published by Pan Books
The Association of British Fungus Groups