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Mushroom hunting

I always have a little canvas bag, or just a paper bag, in the rucksack when we go for a long walk in the country. In my pocket, if it’s a short walk. Because you never know when you might find… mushrooms!

I love finding stuff in the countryside and then eating it. Ransoms in spring, bilberries in summer, mushrooms in autumn. It’s not a serious interest, I wouldn’t know wild sorrel if it bit me and I certainly draw the line at roadkill! Mushrooms are my favourite, as there are so many different varieties and identifying the edible ones makes the whole thing more of a game. If I’m ruthlessly honest, shop-bought mushrooms have a better taste and texture than many of the ones I find wild (although there are definite exceptions). It’s still fun to cook and eat something you’ve collected.

Today we were lucky, we went walking up on Clee Hill where there aren’t even any woodlands and basically stumbled over loads of field mushrooms and puffballs.

These are good to eat. I had lamb chops back home, so we ended up with oven-roasted lamb chops, pan-fried mushrooms, fluffy mashed potatoes and a few beans. The field mushrooms were just like shop ones, the puffballs had tough skin but a nice marshmallowy flesh inside. I also decided to experiment with a black pepper sauce similar to the one we enjoyed so memorably with crab in Singapore. PHEW. Turns out I slightly overdid the chilli and along with the massive fragrance of toasted pepper I almost blew a gasket. Superb. But I might try it again and get something that sane people can eat before I put a recipe up!

I’ve gone out mushroom hunting at least a couple of times every year for the past six or so years, and haven’t poisoned myself yet. I didn’t take any lessons, I just bought a good book on mushroom identification and behaved sensibly. So don’t be scared, go and find some mushrooms. Here are my tips:

  • If you can’t positively identify it, leave it
  • If it seems a bit like an edible one from the book, but some features are a bit different, leave it
  • If you’re pretty certain it’s an edible one from the book, but there’s another one in the book it could also be, leave it
  • If it’s an old and yucky looking specimen, leave it
  • If it is really young and not surrounded by older specimens that can be properly identified, leave it

In summary: just make sure you’re really certain of your identification. If you hear yourself say the words “it’s probably…” then don’t eat it!

Even with all this caution, I think you’ll still find a bunch of mushrooms you can identify properly and take home to nom. Of course, this assumes you can find mushrooms at all. As I said, I’ve been looking for a while and I’ve still never found the bountiful supplies of mushrooms that the real enthusiasts and experts boast about. Some expeditions I come back with enough for a meal, other times scarcely enough for a garnish. I probably haven’t found the right places, or being a lazy soul I’m going out too late in the day when some other bugger has already been along and got the best ones. Who knows! It’s still fun, and it’s a lovely surprise to find some really good mushrooms when you’re just out for a walk.

If you want a beautiful book which includes a good identification guide, I love Antonio Carluccio’s Complete Mushroom Book. It’s a bit big to take out on a stroll though, maybe get something pocket-sized too.

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  1. Nessa

    Reminds me of a day out in Berlin with Tim and friends including some locals. We headed to some woods in the pouring rain for a walk and ended up with about 5 buckets of mushrooms! While Tim, Graham, Jeremy and I went to a concert, Heiko and Ines cooked up a german rustic dinner of mushrooms and potatoes for late supper.

  1. Bilberry picking and a good bilberry sauce recipe

    […] are one of my favourite wild foods, right up there with wild garlic and parasol mushrooms. They start to appear in August and can be got into September, it all seems to depend on where […]

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