Getting to know nature, and then eating it!

Mushrooming with John Wright

Published: 10/14/2012 October mushroom foray with John Wright

Way back in February, we decided to book up for one of John Wright's mushroom forays in the New Forest near Southampton. To our disappointment, we were told we were too late as all the places on all the days out were fully booked but John did say that he might be running an extra couple of days and would let us know. Much to our delight we were emailed back a few weeks later with the details of another date that was available and needless to say we jumped at the chance.

Today was the day we had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of for nearly seven months and finally it was here. Turning up fashionably late and missing out on the foragers nip (woops!) we muttered our apologies and joined the ranks of the twenty or so others to listen to the obligatory warnings and the order of the day. "We've got one basket for edible fungi, and one for inedible fungi. I need a responsible adult to hold the basket for inedible mushrooms, anyone...". Feeling lacking in both self confidence and any utterly inadequate for the role of "responsible adult" I kept deathly quiet and someone eventually found themselves lumbered with the "dodgy basket".

Heading out into a mixed woodland of mainly pine, oak and beech trees with the forest floor literally littered with leaves it wasn't long before someone shouted "John" and we all left our own mushroom pursuits to delight in someone else's findings. Don't get me wrong I was delighted to see the mushrooms when I go there but I'm sure I was just about to find something where I was; but then I always am. Anyway, the first find of the day was a handful of amethyst deceivers (or "Laccaria amethystina" as John would have you say), which are quiet a small mushroom and like their namesake were deeply purple. If anyone but an expert had told me that they were edible I frankly wouldn't have believed them because they just look so bizarre to my eyes. This was only a couple of minutes and all of about 50 meters from where we set out.

Our meandering walk through the woods continued with the findings of puffballs, parasols, wood blewits, wood mushrooms, a small cep, a couple of bolettes, some hedgehog mushrooms, saffron milkcaps and numerous inedible species of mushrooms which were nevertheless quite beautiful. Between us we found around 60 different species of mushrooms which John would later sit down to fully check, categorize and name.

Lunch was spread out waiting for us on our return by John's lovely wife and daughter "Flos"... "Klos"... or something like that - we left wondering what his daughter's real name was. We enjoyed some proper alcoholic ginger beer (which didn't taste much of ginger but definitely tasted of beer... odd one), pesto pasta, thick cut ham, cheeses ("mmm... goats cheese"), french sticks, salad and of course some home made mushroom soup... oooh and some of John's home made almond cake... yum! John insisted that we shouldn't form a queue for our food like the British and encouraged us to be more French which I think he meant as a compliment to the French but I could be wrong. Anyhow, our Britishness remained strong in us and form a queue we did as he muttered to the guy next to him, probably in playful disgust.

Mushrooms awaiting identification

After lunch we set out with John's wife and daughter as he set out two tables and a chair and set out to identify the numerous species of mushrooms we had collected. This time we headed west into an area where pine trees grew hoping to find some extra species and some more edible species for "the pot" so to speak. We would be having a sort of communal fry up that evening to finish off the day properly so the pressure was on. This was especially true of John's request for some chanterelles as although we had found false chanterelles we had not yet found any normal chanterelles. Someone did find some (and lots of them) that afternoon but they were trumpet chanterelles rather than the egg yolk chanterelles we were looking for. However, after a quick run back to John to double check we received the go ahead to pick some for our fry up.

Returning to base with the trumpet chanterelles and a few other species for John to check, I felt a lot more competent and experienced as a mushroom forager and I would highly recommend or rather insist that anyone who wants to forage for mushrooms should go on a course with an experienced mushroom forager first. It really does boost your confidence and you're an awful lot safer starting out like this rather than reading some website or book and thinking you know roughly what you're doing. As an example, the orange corts looked very similar to the deceivers (not the amethyst ones) to my untrained eyed and I could have easily made that mistake by myself but John was there to point out my error. I've also seen a false chanterelle first hand and feel more confident in the difference between that and the real chanterelles now.

My favourite mushroom of all the ones we ate was the parasol mushroom but it did give me bile so I don't think it agreed with me (making me think it was the shaggy parasol as that doesn't agree with some people apparently). Quite ironic don't you think. A close second was the wood mushroom, followed by the amesysth deceiver and then followed by the puffballs... which aren't great cooked as they have a rubbery squeeky texture when cooked. Puffballs can be eaten raw which I did try a little of one day and I think they are much better like that because they have a texture and taste far more similar to raw cultivated mushrooms. Most of the time you should be cooking your mushrooms to be safer as some mushrooms like some foods are poisonous raw but edible when cooked (of course many will remain poisonous even when cooked).

Remember if you're not absolutely 100% sure what you're picking is edible, don't eat it, and better yet, don't pick it. You mustn't trust anyone else or any thing you read as definitive and for goodness sake don't just go by a picture because it often isn't enough. There are far more poisonous mushrooms in existence than there are edible ones so chance is not on your side.

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