Coinciding nicely with my foraging ventures in the garden, the publishers, Green Books, invited me to a fungay foray in deepest Kent to launch their latest book – Edible Mushrooms by Geoff Dann (a licensed forager). We soon adjusted our ideas of setting off home at the end of the day with baskets laden with cepes and chanterelles when Geoff told us he had scouted the foraging area and there was hardly anything to be found – apparently it is a very late year.
The foraging took place in ancient woodland where Jack Raven Bushcraft have a camp and teach all manner of outdoor skills. Given the expected dearth of mushrooms, Geoff had put together a collection of fungi he had collected from various locations for us to examine. These ranged from delicious, to edible, to edible if cooked correctly, to inedible, mildly poisonous and downright deadly. Duly cautious, we set off with Geoff, accompanied by Gary from Jack Raven, both of whom proved to be human truffle hounds (although sadly there were no truffles.) Other than a group of parasol mushrooms that had conveniently and visibly colonised the roof of a twig and leaf shelter, practically everything else needed eyes that were attuned to picking them out amongst the leaf litter. The Hen of the Woods would certainly have remained undetected by me.
A selection of Geoff’s pre-foraged funghi
Shaggy Parasol mushroom
Hen of the Woods amongst the leaf litter
When we returned from our walk, Geoff cooked up our finds, together with some of his earlier foraging, in the camp kitchen and the variety of flavours was extraordinary. But given that one particular variety required 15 minutes cooking to make it edible and his warning that many are generally edible but cause a mild allergic reaction in a percentage of the population, I left more cautious than I arrived, which is probably a good thing for me and the environment. The day ended with a slice of a very tasty leek and wild mushroom tart made by Cathy, Geoff’s wife.
I did absorb some fascinating and useful facts. Apparently true chanterelles (delicious and exceedingly edible) smell of apricots while the false chanterelle (poisonous) does not.
False chanterelle is deeper coloured
The yellow stainer looks like a field mushroom, but exudes yellow when wiped or cut and is the most common cause of poisoning by mushrooms in the UK – the good news is that it won’t kill you.
I don’t remember the name of this inedible fungi – but Geoff showed us how its skin can be used as a plaster. Bit of a case of ‘first find your mushroom’ though.
Puffballs are nearly all edible, including one weighing 2 stone that was found recently by a Scottish Woodland Ranger. But should you discover that it has a black interior when you cut it open I doubt you would be tempted to eat it, which is a good thing because it’s actually a common earthball. It has a strong unpleasant smell and is poisonous – even smelling it can cause an allergic reaction.
For braver souls than myself, Geoff’s book is an excellent and comprehensive guide to all the edible fungi of Britain and Europe and it is available from www.greenbooks.co.uk for £19.99.
Should you fancy learning some bushcraft skills check out www.jackravenbushcraft.co.uk