Category: Fungi

Fungi-filled fun

The fungi season has arrived a bit earlier than some years thanks to the combination of hot, dry weather in late June (it seems a long time ago) and then the cooler, wet weather since the kids broke up for the summer.  On Friday, I wrote in a Hedgerow Harvest Facebook post:

If you you’re a fungi fan change your plans for the weekend and head for your favourite fungi spots. The combination of really hot weather then lots of wet days means the fungi are going crazy. Where I live we have lots of grass fields and I am picking Field Mushrooms, Fairy Ring Champignon and Scarlet Waxcaps. The fungi forums are buzzing with photos of good quantities and a wide range of species of both grassland (Parasols and Giant Puffballs) and woodland (Chanterelles, Ceps, Horn of Plenty, Chicken of The Woods, Amethyst Deceivers, False Saffron Milkcaps and many more). Of course, it’s not just the good species that are about, I’ve seen photos of some of the Amanita’s including the deadly Destroying Angel.

On Friday evening, we took the dogs for a local walk. In the grasslands we found Parasols a plenty, some visible from a few hundred metres away! In the woods we found good numbers of Chanterelles and Hedgehogs but all far to small to pick. Being the beginning of the season we had good revision lessons with a possible gone over Death Cap, Brown Roll Rim, various Brittlegills and Porcelain fungus.

Top view of Parasol Mushroom - about 8 inches (20 cm) across
Top view of Parasol Mushroom – about 8 inches (20 cm) across

 

"Snakeskin" pattern on the stem and large, moveable ring - characteristics of a Parasol mushroom.
“Snakeskin” pattern on the stem and large, moveable ring – characteristics of a Parasol mushroom.

On Saturday, we stayed in West Dorset but went a little further a field, finding many of the above and one tree “covered” in Oyster mushrooms,  some very small Ceps (too small again), a Bay Bolete, a Red-Cracked Bolete and some Deceivers.

This fallen Beech was covered with hundreds of Oyster mushrooms.
This fallen Beech was covered with hundreds of Oyster mushrooms.

 

A few of these Oyster Mushrooms came home with us.
A few came home with us.

We couldn’t resit the call of the New Forest and headed there yesterday for a lovely walk through the open forest, heather-clad heathlands and wooded inclosures. Our first find was, at first glance, a lovely group of Ceps, but closer inspection revealed them to be the quite similar looking, Bitter Bolete. One of these in a pan will spoil all the “good stuff” so worth recognising! We soon met a couple with some nice “real” Ceps and a Scarletina Bolete. Encouraged, we soon found our first “real” one, some Chanterelles (a few pickable but “hundreds” too small), a few small Hedgehog Mushrooms, Blushers, Tawny Grisettes, Oak Milkcaps, Brown Birch Boletes, a Chicken of The Woods and many Common Yellow Brittlegills. The real find of the day was not an edible but a beech stump with a large number of pristine Lacquered Brackets. I think, there are only 307 records for these for the UK!

Bitter Bolete (not edible).
Bitter Bolete (not edible).

 

Penny Bin / Cep / Porcini - one of the best edible mushrooms. Drying intensifies the flavours.
Penny Bin / Cep / Porcini – one of the best edible mushrooms. Drying intensifies the flavours.

 

Blusher
Blusher

 

Chicken of The Woods
Chicken of The Woods

 

Lacquered Bracket
Lacquered Bracket

 

Porcelain Fungus
Porcelain Fungus

When we thought we had finished for the day, nearly back at the car, we found an area with lots of Ceps, many kicked over, we took a few. Finally, we got the wiff of a Stinkhorn and soon followed it to it’s source.

Some Ceps, Chanterelles and a few Hedgehogs went home.
Some Ceps, Chanterelles and a few Hedgehogs went home.

 

Stinkhorn
Stinkhorn

When you thought it was all over, this morning’s dog walk found the local Field Mushrooms have moved on to be replaced by one of my favourite’s – Horse Mushrooms.

Horse Mushrooms
Horse Mushrooms

We’ve had mushrooms as a side dish, a wonderful Risotto and there are Ceps to get in the dehydrator this afternoon. I’m looking forward to Battered parasols dipped in garlic mayo too!

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“Experts Call This Mushroom-Identifying App ‘Potentially Deadly'”

This recent headline is from the US. Someone has developed an app that is designed to identify mushrooms in the wild using just a smartphone photo.

There is a growing trend for foraging apps but this one is just down right dangerous. However, a few are good.  In Denmark, a recent one is a comprehensive and free resource for the public to learn about and sustainably explore wild food. The initiative comprises an app in Danish and in English, a website, a curriculum for Danish schools, and foraging workshops offered by fifty rangers (“naturvejledere”) across Denmark.

Roger Phillips is one of the world’s leading mushroom specialists with over 40 years’ of expertise of studying fungi in the wild. His excellent book ‘Mushrooms’, has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. You can get an app version of the book, but rather getting the app to tell you what the mushroom is, you are lead through an electronic version of the key from the book. Lots of mushroom books have these, people are often unaware that they are in the book or haven’t used them. They are easy to use and a really valuable tool – give them a go.

Keys are not just used for identifying mushrooms but also for wider species identification. They usually ask questions based on easily identifiable features. Dichotomous keys use questions to which there are only two answers. They can be presented as a table of questions, or as a branching tree of questions with one questions answer leading you to the next. Here is an example, okay not mushrooms, but it shows the principle.

Branching key
Branching tree example This tree could help you identify a new vertebrate. For example, if it had no fur or feathers and dry skin, you would follow the right-hand pathway at the first and second junctions, but the left-hand pathway at the third junction. This would lead you to identify the animal as a reptile. Copyright © 2017 BBC.

On our mushrooms day courses and walks we teach guests how to use keys. In fact, everyone who attends takes a turn at leading an identification. You start WITHOUT YOUR BOOKS / APP – with observation about the surroundings – habitat, trees etc., then examination of the specimen – cap, spores (including colour), gills, / tubes (pores) / spines, ring, stem, colour changes, smell etc. Then you use your key, before checking the answer with pictures or descriptions in several other sources too. Does it all agree? Note you shouldn’t trust every mushroom photo caption on the web as accurate!

Yes, identifying mushrooms can be difficult. Individuals of the same species will vary with age and the weather, but a key makes the task a lot easier, far better than flicking though the pictures looking for one that looks right. Give them a go.

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Morels

Mission Accomplished

Morels are one type of fungi that I (and  lots of others) have struggled to find. They are a spring fungus and prize-eating; only truffles go for a higher price. There fairly picky about where they live and not that common. One fungi expert I know took 20 years to find his first. I’ve read so much about them, the habitats, the trees they are found with, the plants you might find with them and the soils they prefer.

I first saw some about 8 years ago, over 15 years after I started picking any wild mushrooms. A generous soul had found them and had an inkling what they were but wanted a second opinion. They were in the bottom of a hedge, I don’t recall what trees, probably Ash, but definitely on sandy soil. They were rather dry but no doubt, Morels. I returned to that spot the next spring and found … a few St George’s Mushrooms in the very same spot! Subsequent annual pilgrimages to check have all failed too.

Morels
Those first Morels c. 8 years ago – dry but still wonderful.

The fungi forums and dedicated morel discussion groups (yes, really) have been buzzing for a few weeks, the mild weather bringing their arrival forward by a month or so. In them, people show their finds or tell stories of failures, others plead for help. Each set of photos I saw raised my desire to find them again.

There are two species and two main types of location to look. One likes woodchips. I’ve heard stories of people filling their car boots with these Morels from Tesco car parks, motorway service stations and business parks. Every patch of wood chip I have seen for weeks has been scoured (or scanned as I drive past). But, not a single morel to be seen.

The other species preference is for sandy soils, often over chalk. Usually its scrubby Ash woodland with disturbed soil from rabbits or badgers. Plants include Celandine, Dog’s Mercury, Wild Garlic and Bluebells. They also like golf courses and orchards. I live near chalk, so evening dog walks for a couple of weeks have been scouring likely spots, again without success.

All the failures, rather than making me give up, made me even more determined; this pursuit was turning into an obsession. If the Mrs had a pound for every time I said “woodchip” in recent weeks, she would have been rich!

A weekend away to the Cotswolds got me thinking. Limestone produces alkaline soils, like Chalk does… The first evening’s stroll looked promising, lots of Ash scrub and Wild Garlic.

On the next day’s wander, there was plenty of good looking spots, Bluebells and Wild Garlic both just starting to flower, but no morels. Our walk nearly done, we emerged onto a grassy bank with a few Primroses, “semi-garden” , fringed by a hazel hedge with an Ash tree and an Elm. The grass had recently been mown carefully avoiding the clumps of Primroses. As we stopped near a stile to check the map, I spotted a bit of white on the grass. Close inspection showed it to be a tapering, hollow stem. Could it be….? I wandered around and soon found the mown bases.

A stem (right) and the bit in the ground (left) behind the dreaded mower.
A stem (right) and the bit in the ground (left) behind the dreaded mower.

More searching and a few broken pieces of several Morels, the honeycomb-like structure of the pieces of “cap” were unmistakable. Further searching found lots more but all had by the darned mower! Curses! so very close, probably only cut a few hours before – drat!

I remembered reading if you find one, mark the spot with a stick and search up and down wind based on the prevailing direction. A bit more scouting and an intact stem, getting better. Spotting a mound of leaf litter nearer the hedge, I gently cleared it to reveal a truly beautiful sight, a very fresh looking, intact Morel about the size of my fist.

Morels
That first intact Morel after so many mower demolished pieces. Dog’s Mercury and Lords and Ladies around, hedge of Hazel to left.

More searching found more bits and a few “babies”, each new find having it’s photo taken before picking (leaving a good proportion and the “young”). Thinking that was it, I peered over the stile and exclaimed “Oh my God”, there were about a dozen “lumps of honeycomb” beautifully golden in the bright sunlight.

Morels
Golden beauties basking in the sun. Plants include brambles, Wild Garlic, Cow Parsley, Dock, Ivy.

I should have been better prepared – no mushroom basket, no rucksack that always has a paper bag and mushroom knife, no hat that could be brought into emergency use, just a few of those multi-purpose little black bags us responsible dog owners carry at all times! Designed with one purpose in mind, I’ve used them for carrying home an unexpected wild food bonanza on a good many occasions. Also no decent camera, just my phone. No quick fix to that (and as I now see almost every close up is out of focus – double-drat!).

Morels
Emergency wild food carrier (Dog poo bag) stuffed with Morels

Being away and already having shopped, lunch was half of the 700 grams, simply fried on toast – delicious. The remainder are heading home, there I’ll be checking out Roger Phillips’ recipe for, my memory says, a dish with chicken, cream and the Morels.

Morels
The whole catch – c. 700 grams!

So, is the desire satisfied? Sort of, I now want to find some more!

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Scarlett Elf Cups

Scarlett Elf Cups - an edible winter fungus
Scarlett Elf Cups – an edible winter fungus

There are lots of these beautiful Scarlet Elf Cups fungi about at the moment in damp deciduous woods. The contrast of their deep red colour and the dusting of snow last week made me reach for my camera.

Fungi are listed in the books as edible, poisonous or inedible. The latter usually means they are either tough, like trying to eat your shoe, or have no flavour. Some books put these into the inedible camp, but I, and many others, think they are rather good (not too far from a raw Field Mushroom). Some mushrooms, in the same way as Kidney beans, need to be cooked before you can eat them. However, I am unaware of any problems from eating these raw. As with any wild food take a nibble first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction. Frying quickly retains the colour – so throw into a stir fry at the last minute. You could serve with white fish to show off their colour or sprinkle on top of nettle soup. They can be added to stews though the colour goes. Raw, the shape lends itself to being stuffed – cooked egg with any of other spring wild foods such as Three Cornered Leek, Wild Garlic flowers, Pennywort, Hairy Bittercress or other herbs. You could also poach them in a reduction made from onion or chicken stock.

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New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code – Part 2

Part 1, written in early September can be found here. This post brings things up to date and gives our interpretation of the situation.

Some media coverage:

1. Radio 4’s PM programme (Saturday 24th September) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vjxj4 . Go forward 27 minutes.

2. Radio 4’s “You and Yours” (Friday 23rd September) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vjxdc. The relevant part starts at 23 minutes 33 seconds in. It is about the New Forest fungi situation and includes:

  • Sandy Shaw – A New Forest Keeper
  • Jonathan Spencer = Head of Planning & Environment, Forest Enterprise (national, not just New Forest)
  • John Wright – Forager

Below is a transcript of part of the programme:

Shari Vahl: Is this a ban?

Jonathan Spencer: We are not permitting the picking of fungi at any level, so it’s technically a ban but we are only really trying to reign in the over-exploitation of what we see as a common resource.

Shari Vahl: “Technically a ban” – it’s either a ban or its not?

Jonathan Spencer: We have discovered that we have not been able to introduce mechanisms by which restraint can be enforced in any way. By not permitting the collection of fungi at any level, we are then in a position to choose who to pursue under the Theft Act and The Wildlife and Countryside Act and there is no doubt in my mind that we are obliged to do that as part of our responsibilities to look after this wonderful, ancient, biologically rich forest.

3. The Times (Saturday 24th September)
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/4bb13e82-81c9-11e6-8d70-b369ed513749

A far more truthful view of the situation than the smoke and mirrors peddled by other newspapers. Sadly you need a subscription to read it all (though you can sign up for a free limited access version).

A key phrase “A commission spokesman later admitted to The Times that it was not against the law to pick for personal consumption.”

 

My understanding

You have 3 categories of fungi picker:

1. Organised educational forays – run with permission from the Forestry Commission – like mine – http://www.hedgerow-harvest.com/. Strict guidelines apply e.g. 1.5 kg total for the foray (NOT per person).

2. Commercial pickers – has been and is illegal under The Theft Act 1968 (without landowner consent).

3. Foragers picking for personal consumption – a common law right.

The Forestry Commission  “ban” is an “appeal” (their word on posters, leaflets, web page) not to pick. They are trying to stop / scare the commercial pickers but the “easiest / most cost effective” way of doing this is an outright ban. THIS BAN HAS NO STANDING IN LAW FOR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION.

Are there commercial pickers? Yes.

Are there many? No.

How do you know? I have access to the data of 150 “incidents” of fungi related activity in The New Forest for the period 08/10/15 – 06/11/15. When you take out the duplicates, the ones not in The New Forest (yes!), parked cars (but no evidence of fungi picking) and 2 groups of youths picking “Magic Mushrooms”, that leaves:

127 “incidents”, of which per person they had the below weights of mushrooms:

  • Weight not specified (e.g. “1 XXX reported to NF Keeper by MOP. Not spoken to”, “Their bag was checked and they were spoken to about the code..”) – 53 (42%)
  • No mushrooms 19 (15%)
  • <= 1.5 kg (the advisory limit under the old New Forest Fungi Pickers Code) 43 (34%)
  • >1.5 kg 12 (9%)

So 12 incidents with over the then advisory limit of 1.5 kilos.

If you look at these 12 incidents:

  • 1.5 – 2 kg – 3 incidents
  • 2 – 2.5 kg – 2 incidents
  • 4 – 6 kg – 2 incidents
  • > 1.5 kg – exact amount not specified – 3 incidents
  • “A basket” – 1 incident

So, allowing for picker error (say 2.5 kilos) in only a handful of incidents did the amount of fungi per person exceed the 1.5 kg limit for personal consumption.

 

Extract from a letter from The Forestry Commission re The New Forest Fungi “ban”:
(my emphasis)

I’d like to reassure you that we are not seeking to prosecute individuals that are picking for themselves – it is not illegal. … Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to do so without the permission of the landowner. .. also, in the case of persistent offenders, tools such as the Stop Notice may be issued.

Is that the message their signs, leaflets, press release, web site etc. say ?

New Forest "No Picking sign
New Forest “No Picking sign

Clearly not. Their “campaign” has been completely misleading. It eventually transpired there are no new laws or bylaws. It has cost me and many others, a lot of time and money (reduced bookings etc.) and the local economy has lost out too. I cancelled hall bookings, B&Bs, didn’t eat in local pubs, similarly I have had less guests doing the same. If only the Forestry Commission had met foragers after last season (rather than at the opening of this), to discuss this like adults:

This is what we perceive to be an issue and this is the evidence we have. Working together as conservationists and foragers (a big overlap as most foragers are actually conservationists caring passionately about the natural world) how can we all work together to address the perceived issue?

What we have we actually had is “smoke and mirrors”, opinions not evidence. The public have been stirred up by the media’s pretty much one-sided, repetition of the same old guff, with the hint of racism thrown in. There have been cases of verbal abuse of people legally photographing fungi and legally picking fungi. As far as Joe Public are concerned there is a ban as they read it in the paper whatever the actual situation. All completely unnecessary. I saw a quote from a Washington University study the other day, my what a different world to what we have here (most unlike me to praise anything American!):

“Mushrooms are a wonderful way to engage the public with its natural resources and the environment. It could be an opportunity for the National Park Service to encourage a different demographic of visitors to value, understand and engage with the natural world.”

#NewForestPickingBan

 

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Purple Mushrooms!

A long time ago, I fell into the “it’s a big purple mushroom, it must be a blewit” trap. Fortunately, I was with someone older and wiser who pointed out the error of my ways. At the weekend I spotted a handsome example of the same imposter and thought I would take some close-up photos to share the with you.

The first photo shows several lovely Wood Blewitts. These are a very good edible mushroom found in the later Autumn and early Winter. They must be cooked (like Kidney beans). The Wood Blewitt, is not just found in woods and woodland remnants (aka hedges). Some of my best sites for them are nice, unimproved grasslands. A spore print is a very helpful step in deducing the ID of most fungi. That of the Wood Blewitt shows pink spores. It also has a very distinctive smell, sweet, aromatic, almost perfume-like.

Wood Blewitts
Wood Blewitts

The following photos show an imposter – definitely a Cortinarius, and probably Cortinarius purpurascens. While it is not poisonous, there are other members of the same family that are, SOME ARE DEADLY, so a useful lesson. All Cortainarius species, at least when young, have a Cortina. As well as a 1970s car made by Ford, this is a veil, a web of fine threads linking the stem to the margin of the cap. On older specimens you may see some remnants of the Cortina. They also all have a brown spore print and you may see brown “dust” on some of the stem, fibres or the edge of the cap. These are illustrated in the photos.

Cortinarius - possibly purpurascens.
Cortinarius – possibly purpurascens.

 

1. Intact part of the veil visible to the left and right rear of the stem. 2. Remnant threads visible on the cap margin front left and right. 3. Brown spores ("dust") visible on the stem and some on the veil. Add these together and you have a Cortinarius species.
1. Intact part of the veil visible to the left and right rear of the stem. 2. Remnant threads visible on the cap margin front left and right. 3. Brown spores (“dust”) visible on the stem and some on the veil. Add these together and you have a Cortinarius species.

 

Good view of the Cortina (veil).
Good view of the Cortina (veil).

 

The cap.
The cap.

 

Spore print showing brown spores. Produced by cutting the stem off, putting the cap on a piece of paper with a glass over it (to stop draughts), then waiting a few hours.
Spore print showing brown spores. Produced by cutting the stem off, putting the cap on a piece of paper with a glass over it (to stop draughts), then waiting a few hours. A darker piece of paper will help show lighter coloured spores (e.g. pink)
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New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code

The New Forest in Hampshire is a wonderful place for fungi with over 2700 species found, both the rare and very good numbers of the common species. It has been a popular destination for those who like to study and / or pick edible fungi for many years, but the growth of interest in foraging has been perceived by some to be detrimental to the Forest.

Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest
Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest

Foraging instructors have taught responsible, sustainable practice. I emphasised the Wild Mushroom Pickers’ Code of Conduct (British Mycological Society) and, the now defunct, Fungi Collectors Code for the New Forest.

There has been a bit of rumbling over the years coming to a head with statements in July 2015 by Sarah Cadbury of The Hampshire Fungus Recording Group to The New Forest Verderers – (Daily Mail, Guardian). One of the “accused”, John Wright responded to The Verderers (copy here).

Over the last year those that teach or forage professionally foragers formed The Association of Foragers and representatives have met with New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Natural England. Members also attended “Future of Foraging” workshops around the country with Natural England under “The Foraging Partnership” banner. These workshops all seemed pretty positive with foraging seen as a way of getting people to engage with nature, but it needed to be done in a responsible manner.

old no pick sing for some inclosures
OLD sign. A limited number of inclosures have had been “no picking” for some years. One assumes that they have been used for comparative academic studies, but we don’t know.

Last week, those with permits to lead educational forays in The New Forest received a letter from The Forestry Commission. With immediate effect they have introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). This covers most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc. The related web page and Q&A go into more detail of their justification.

“Due to the growing concern from conservationists and very real fears from members of the community in the New Forest about the wide-scale harvesting of fungi, Forestry Commission feels it necessary to adopt a precautionary approach and can no longer support fungi picking on any scale on the New Forest Crown Lands (Site of Special Scientific Interest).”

Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.
Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.

They continue to clamp down on any illegal commercial mushroom picking and I support this action, though dispute how much actually happens.

The Forestry Commission released the story to the media (press release) earlier this week with it appearing in a number of daily and local newspapers, most seem to have just repeated the message. Telegraph, Mail, Times (subscription required to read all), Southern Daily Echo (Southampton / Bournemouth etc..

Today, The Association of Foragers have responded to The Forestry Commission and sent a press release to the media. The press release is reproduced below:

New Forest Fungi Picking Ban “unscientific” say fungi experts

New Forest, Hampshire, September 1st 2016

Leading foraging educators claim New Forest fungi picking ban is will undermine future fungi growth


A campaign by the Forestry Commission in England to ban the picking of all fungi in the New Forest has been heavily criticised by fungi experts and foraging educators.

The Association of Foragers, which represents the collective knowledge and experience of nearly one hundred writers, teachers and researchers, say the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence, and is more likely to undermine fungi populations in the long term. “There are at least 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest. Only a dozen are routinely collected as food - none of which are rare”, said John Wright, author of the bestselling River Cottage Mushroom Guide, and member of The Association of Foragers. “More fungi are kicked over and trampled by the uneducated than are picked for the pot. Foraging provides an important point of human connection with these otherwise mysterious organisms”, said Mr Wright.

Mark Williams, a member of The Association of Foragers who has taught about fungi in Scotland for 25 years, said: “The Forestry Commission has presented no scientific evidence to show why this ban is necessary. That’s because there simply isn’t any”.

“A 25 year study of the effects of picking mushrooms revealed no correlation whatsoever between picking and future growth, in the same way as picking a bramble does not impact the parent plant - in the case of mushrooms an invisible underground network called mycelium. The picking and movement of mushrooms is actually more likely to help spread fungi spores and expand populations”, said Mr Williams.

The Forestry Commission also cites “fungi-dependent invertebrates” as reason for the ban. Research herbalist Monica Wilde of The AoF says: “People don’t pick the mushrooms that are appealing to maggots! The most widely eaten species - chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms - are almost entirely resistant to insects.”

The FC also cites anecdotal evidence of “teams of commercial fungi pickers”. “This is a mantra that has been so often repeated, mostly by the tabloid press, that it has entered the public consciousness”, says Mr Williams. “With collectively 1000’s of days spent teaching and recording in the New Forest, not one member of the AoF has ever seen any evidence of this - not even a photograph. 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow.”

The AoF is calling for the FC to rethink the ban. “It is unscientific, unenforceable, and will serve only to further disconnect people from the world of fungi. We urge the FC to use the collective knowledge of the AoF to help formulate evidence-based policy to support future populations of fungi”.

The foraging forums / social media have been buzzing, among the comments that caught my eye:

  • The New Forest has at least 2,700 species of fungi. Only a dozen are routinely collected for food.
  • Absurdly about 50% of the New Forest SSSI woodland is spruce and pine plantation. Yet mushroom picking still not allowed.
  • I now won’t be able to take my 5-year-old daughter out picking within the New Forest. She’s been out with me since she was 1-year-old and already has a basket and some favourite spots.

There is no evidence that picking damages the crop (long-term scientific studies elsewhere have shown this); its a sustainable harvest and European experience proves it. Foraging is healthy, harmless fun and should be encouraged, not banned.

Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature - no apps, screens etc.
Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature – no apps, screens etc.
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Beatrix Potter, Mycologist.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. She is best known for her children’s books with characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-duck. She was also very interested in natural history, drawing and studying fossils, archaeological artefacts and fungi.

I am fortunate to have a book of her fungi paintings. They are thoroughly accurate representations with the species instantly recognisable.

Beatrix Potter's 1892 watercolour of Velvet Shank (flammulina velutipes), Credit: Armitt Museum
Beatrix Potter’s 1892 watercolour of Velvet Shank (flammulina velutipes), Credit: Armitt Museum

She was a keen “amateur” scientist and grew 50 species of fungi from spores studying them with a microscope. From her studies she produced a theory about germination through spores, what she thought was a significant scientific breakthrough.

Her uncle, a distinguished chemist, championed her studies, though the scientific community were reluctant to listen, due to her being a woman and an amateur. Kew largely dismissed her work, but one man there encouraged her and presented the research to the Linnean Society as women could not speak or attend. It was poorly received. In 1997, after her death, the Linnean Society issued a posthumous apology to Potter, noting the sexism displayed in the handling of her research and its policy toward the contributions of women.

You can see some of her paintings and drawings in the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside and browse them here.

Beatrix Potter’s 1892 watercolour of Shaggy Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota rhacodes now Chlorophyllum rhacodes), Credit: Armitt Museum

You can read more of the story in these fascinating articles:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/28/beatrix-potter-a-life-in-nature-botany-mycology-fungi/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160215-beatrix-potter-pioneering-scientist-or-passionate-amateur

https://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/case-studies/beatrix-potter.html

Beatrix Potter’s watercolour of Monkey’s Ears / Jelly Ear etc. (Auricularia auricula-judae), Credit: Armitt Museum
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Spring Fungi

While Autumn is the main time of the year to think about fungi, there are a few edible species to be found in the Spring. The usual rules about not picking all in an area, being 100% certain on the ID etc. apply. This post gives an introduction to the species you can find at this time of the year.

Jelly Ear / Monkey’s Ears

Jelly Ear
Jelly Ear

This is a rubbery ear-like fungus that was formerly known as Jew’s Ear or Judas’s Ear fungus. It ranges from purple to dark brown or black in colour with a rubbery texture when the air is moist or brittle when dry! It is found most commonly on dead elder trees. The spores are white and it grows singly or in groups. There are no poisonous species that it would be confused with.

It is one of the few fungi that has the ability to withstand freezing temperatures. It can actually freeze solid, and when thawed out shows no ill effects. It can be found all year round.

While most fungi collectors ignore it, they have been sold in Waitrose as Chinese Black Mushrooms. This species is used in Asian cooking because, although it lacks a strong taste, it absorbs the flavours of other foods (garlic / ginger / soy sauce etc.) and provides delicate texture in Chinese and Japanese dishes. The Chinese call it “Wood Ear” or “Tree Ear”, the Japanese “Tree Jellyfish”. An Internet search on these terms or the related species “Cloud Ear” will find far more recipes than “Jews Ear”. Beware if you fry them,  they spit like mad! cover with a lid and stand well back!

Bizarrely, they are an ingredient in a US health drink! They are blended with organic goji and hawthorn berries and other organic superfoods. They contain high levels of polysaccharides – often cited as having heart health benefits.

Scarlett Elf Cups

Scarlett Elf Cups
Scarlett Elf Cups

Spotting some Autumn fungi species is nearly impossible as they are the same colour as the leaf litter. You have no such difficulty with these! Look in damp, deciduous woods from January to April and you might be in luck

Fungi are either edible, poisonous or inedible. The latter usually means they are either tough, like trying to eat your shoe, or have no flavour. Some books put these into the inedible camp, but I, and many others, think they are good with a pleasant, subtle flavour. Some mushrooms, in the same way as Kidney beans, need to be cooked before you can eat them. However, I am unaware of any problems from eating these raw. As with any wild food take a nibble first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction. Frying quickly retains the colour – so throw into a stir fry at the last minute. You could serve with white fish to show off their colour or sprinkle on top of nettle soup. They can be added to stews though the colour goes. Raw, the shape lends itself to being stuffed – cooked egg with any of  other spring wild foods such as Three Cornered Leek, Wild Garlic flowers, Pennywort, Hairy Bittercress or other herbs. You could also poach them in a reduction made from onion or chicken stock.

Morels

Morels
Morels

Morels are perhaps one of the most prized mushrooms for cooks coming in price-wise below only truffles. I have tried to find these many times but have only seen them once. On the fungi forums you hear stories of people finding tonnes of them on woodchip used for landscaping in glamorous places like motorway service stations and supermarket car parks! The season usually starts in the last week of March. Look in woods with gentle slopes, sandy soil, Ash trees and disturbed ground. You could also try gardens, orchards, fire sites and areas with woodchips.

Their flavour is nutty or steak-like. They can be used in sauces, sautéed on their own or served with pasta and cream sauce. They are also great on a pizza! Anywhere you can use a regular mushroom, you can use morels, but with better results.

Beware of False Morels. The toxin they produce is described as “basically rocket fuel” – and can cause liver damage and seizures.

St George’s Mushroom

St George's Mushrooms
St George’s Mushrooms

On my full day fungus forays I am joined by a true fungus expert (nerd). He tells the story of his daughter’s late April wedding. When everyone else was photographing the bride and groom he was to be seen on all fours snapping away at, you guessed, a group of these mushrooms growing in the churchyard.

So called because they appear around St George’s Day, these are a great tasting mushroom. Uncooked they smell and taste of “meal”; this goes in cooking. They are found in “grasslands” – some of my best spots are on quiet roadside verges and even a roundabout! Beware of the highly poisonous Deadly Fibrecap, which grows in the same habitats. This has a pink gills (white in the case of St George’s), a more pungent fruity smell and bruises red.

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Wonderful Waxcaps

The latter part of the Autumn is a good time to look at the fungi of old grasslands. If these have been spared agricultural “improvement” they can offer a lot of fungal interest. These “improvements” such as ploughing and reseeding with a single grass species and the addition of fertiliser compromise the biodiversity in all forms – flora, fauna and fungi. So steep slopes, saved from the plough, organic meadows, churchyards and lawns are places to head for. While some are edible species, to me they are things of beauty – the colours and forms. My favourites are the Waxcaps in so many different colours, like Smarties thrown everywhere! The below were all in one field on my early morning dog walk a day or two ago. A little further from home you can find more including The Ballerina – like a pink tutu!

 

 

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