by Rebecca Davies
I set off on a bright sunny afternoon and walked through the church yard towards the nearby woods. Amongst the graves I came across a beautiful tree covered in red fruit, like jewels in the sun.
‘Crab apples!’ I shouted excitedly and started to pick the fruit off the tree. I took a bite into one of the tiny globes. It was nothing like I expected, actually juicy and sweet. A bonus find, I started collecting the apples from a branch broken under the weight. It would make some delicious wine.
I continued on my mushroom hunt through the graveyard and came across a group of mushrooms, wavy at the edges with a tan coloured cap and lilac gills. I picked one and examined it. Lepista nuda or Wood blewit. Over the style into the field where the farmer seemed to be growing a big crop of rapeseed, swinging my wicker basket in anticipation of the other mushrooms I’d find.
I breathed in the smell of the autumn freshness, the damp smell of the trees, kicking up the red and orange leaves underfoot as I went. I love this time of year with the beautiful colours everywhere. I followed a stream and suddenly spotted, nestled on the bank, some familiar shaped leaves.
‘I’m sure that’s wild watercress.’
I bent down to pick the dark green leaves. I tasted them – they definitely had that peppery taste. Another ingredient to add to my salad later.
Further on I walked past a pond, small waves blowing in the wind towards the shore. Through a gate I spotted something growing at the base of a tree.
‘It’s a puff ball!’
Lycoperdon perlatum, the common puff ball. I cut into it with my penknife and revealed the creamy white flesh which was fresh and clean. It has a marshmallow texture and is edible when young, delicious sliced and fried in butter. Some of them were past their best, I stepped on one and big puff came out. I picked a few of the best specimens and put them in my basket.
Up the hill-track and there in a five-foot diameter semi-circle were at least thirty mushrooms!
‘How exciting! Look at them all they’re amazing!’
I didn’t immediately know what they were. The mushrooms were brownish grey, quite large, with a 11cm diameter dry, smooth cap and a 12cm length stem. However as I was unable to identify them I put them in a separate bag. This is vital when you don’t know if a mushroom is poisonous, because if poisonous spores fall on edible mushrooms they can make these poisonous also. They had a perfumey turnip smell. Later I identified them as Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis). They had creamish colour gills, which were crowded and slightly decurrent. However I was disappointed to find out they weren’t edible and could cause digestive upset.
I continued along the path, the dappled sunshine following me into the woods. I had high hopes I might even find a Porcini, known as Cep in France or Penny bun in Britain – one of the most highly prized mushrooms. There were lots of little fungi and poking in the undergrowth with a stick I saw the top of another.
‘Could that be an ink cap?’
Was it a common ink cap? I have not actually eaten these as they are extremely toxic if eaten within 48 hours of consuming alcohol. The shaggy ink cap on the other hand is very good to eat. Into my basket it went for identification later. The older ones certainly had some black substance like ink on their gills, hence the name. Deeper into the woods there was a tree that had fallen across the path and a huge clump of glistening yellow mushrooms. Definitely Sulphur tuft. They looked beautiful but unfortunately were poisonous.
Just a little further were some more mushrooms growing on dead wood. Grouped together similar to the Sulphur tuft, could they be Honey fungus (Armillaria mellea)? The stems however were wider and than the Honey fungus. I later identified them as Bulbous honey fungus (Armillaria bulbosa), similar to the Honey fungus but with a more swollen base on the stem. Delicious just the same. This mushroom had a brown cap, very convex at first becoming flatter. The young ones had a darker area in the middle with hair-like scales. Dirty white gills becoming flesh coloured with age. Note that Honey fungus is extremely destructive and kills trees and shrubs so keep it away from your garden. However the Armillaria bulbosa is not parasitic and simply rots dead wood.
As with all identifications it is essential to do a spore print to be sure. To do this cut off the stem, place the cap gills-down on a piece of paper with an upturned bowl on top and leave overnight. The spores will drop onto the paper and leave a coloured print which is vital in the identification process.
From afar looking right across the field I spotted something white. It could easily be a stone or a piece of wood but I went to investigate expectantly. As I got closer I saw a number of white mushrooms, quite large. I picked a fully grown one including the root (which is needed for full identification). I scraped my nail in the base to see if it stained yellow as this would indicate the Yellow staining mushroom (Agaricus xanthodermus) which is poisonous. However it did not. I put it to my nose and smelled aniseed. Turning over a young one I saw the pale grey young gills and instantly knew it was a Horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) owing to the distinctive cogwheel pattern underneath. When this opens into a full-size mushroom it becomes the ring on the stem. It’s very tasty indeed.
Back home with my numerous mushroom books, a ruler, pen, paper, and knife I started the investigation process for those fungi I wasn’t sure of already. Eighteen different varieties from one foray!
Quick recipe: Horse mushroom and Bulbous honey fungus tagliatelle
Don’t wash mushrooms as they soak up the moisture and become soggy. Wipe them with kitchen roll to remove any dirt. Note – Horse mushrooms can be infested with maggots, check for any holes. Slice then boil the Honey fungus in slightly-salted water for three to four minutes. This removes any toxins. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the Honey fungus, add to the sliced Horse mushrooms and fry gently in butter and garlic for five minutes. Then toss in the pasta and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan.
Eat with wild watercress if you have it.
Next time – how to make Crab Apple wine and Jelly.
Have you any tips about mushrooming and foraging? Please add them to the comments below.