Picking wild mushrooms

The other morning I woke up to the realisation that autumn is upon us.  It was 5 in the morning and dark, after I had dragged myself from my pit and peered out of the window I saw the steel grey colour scheme which heralds the end of summer.  Grey pavements sported puddles of grey water which fell lazily from the grey clouds above.  Greyness enfolded the world outside my window with the slow and deliberate cruelty of the school-yard bully who knows the nearest teacher is 5 months away and can take his time tormenting you.
Now anyone with half a brain or a sicknote would simply crawl back into their pit and hibernate but I am self-employed which means my entrepreneurial tax-breaks are offset by the fact that I still have to pay the mortgage and feed the family and no bugger is going to do it for me so after I had had a seasonally stronger coffee and dug out some long trousers and a waterproof jacket I set off into the depressing compromise between light and dark with a heavy heart, a light wallet, a steely eye, a wooden expression, a stiff upper lip and a Gentleman’s Excuse-Me.
Actually, I made some of that up.  In fact I had a spring in my step, newspaper in my boots, a trump card up my sleeve and a cunning plan in mind. For this is the time of year when rain, cooler, wetter weather and a full moon combine to encourage the growth of mushrooms.  For many people this represents a chance to go looking for psilocybin and pretty colours and good luck to you all, you lucky swine!  I, however am sworn off such recreational chemicals due to my responsibilities to Our Kid and Our Lass and have a more culinary goal in mind.

These ones are nice, you can eat them.
These are terrible, leave them alone!!!

It has long been a tradition for the Czechs to pick wild mushrooms and it is something we have more or less lost in Britain.  As a child I remember seeing an elderly lady emerge from the woods with a laden basket of mushrooms and asking my mother if we could go and pick some.  My Mum very sensibly replied that she didn’t know which ones were edible and which ones were poisonous and therefore no, we couldn’t.  I grew up with the abstract knowledge that mushrooms, like milk or eggs, came from Nature but were ultimately obtained from Tesco.

As such, it came as a pleasant surprise that Our Lass, taught by her grandparents, has taken on some knowledge of this Dark Art .  At first glance, the prospect of wandering around a wet forest at the crack of Sparrow-fart looking for fungus which can be more easily obtained from the nearest supermarket for a few small-denomination coins seems like a monumental step backwards for human civilisation but try explaining the same argument to a fisherman and you’ll either start to understand the appeal or not.  If not, you never will but anyone who enjoys any form of hunting will find at least a small appeal in picking mushrooms.
Personally, I have spent many a holiday in Britain in the persisting rain, happily hiking the hills and dales, traversing heath and wood, honing my skills by abandoning my compass and navigating by nature’s signposts, forsaking a tent in favour of a small sheet of nylon and bolstering my ego by cooking over a fire started by rubbing two Boy Scouts together until they combusted instead of going to a restaurant like any sensible inhabitant of the First World.  But when all’s said and done, a fisherman is closer to Nature than someone eating fish and chips on the way home from the pub (unless it’s a fisherman who has been eaten by a shark or a particularly large catfish).  You don’t need to be Bear Grylls to find food in the wild but you most certainly do have to be in tune with the environment in which you seek that food.
When Our Lass pauses in the forest, sniffs the air and pronounces that there are mushrooms in the vicinity,  I wouldn’t dream of arguing.  In fact, after a surprisingly short while, my keen carpenter’s nose also discerned the smell of rotten wood, the subtle change of temperature, the sense of rising humidity on the skin and the generally less crunchy feel of the forest floor underfoot which Our Lass associates with a successful mushroom-hunt.
Now is the point where folklore and reality blur… where the line between  scientific fact and superstition actually lies is a matter of opinion… again, ask any fisherman. The unarguable fact is that you have to have a feel for your environment.  You have to understand not only where mushrooms grow but what that environment feels like, smells like, looks like.  Walking around singing a song about how you don’t care about mushrooms and whether you find any or not is all very well (especially if you’re trying to pass this skill on to kids) but if you do it in the middle of your nearest shopping centre car-park, a sense of expectation would be sadly misplaced.

Shrooms an’ beer.  What could possibly go wrong?
Good places to look are by softwood roots…
…or in the leaf-mould under hardwoods like beech…

As I learn more about this I’ll post it but for now, I just enjoy walking in the woods, getting to know the woods and occasionally enjoying the animal pleasure of finding my own free food without resorting to Freeganism! BEWARE THOUGH… what I have learned so far is this… if the mushroom head has the texture of foam underneath, it is not poisonous.  Taste a small piece to check it’s not horrible and bitter, though.  However, if it has the more common gills underneath, be sure you know your fungus!. There are numerous books on the market in numerous languages for numerous geographical locations.  If in doubt, follow the Golden Rule of Mushrooms Pickersif you’re not 100% sure, leave it alone and go to Tescos!!! 

For now, enjoy the pics.

A good ‘un. Recognisable by the foam-like underside and the non-bitter taste IN THAT ORDER!!
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