This year has already been one of the best Autumn season’s for mushrooms in the past six years. The abundance of Ceps (or Porcini) mushrooms, as well as Bolettes and Slippery Jacks has been outstanding. It’s the combination of moisture – rain every 3-5 days – and reasonably high temperatures that seems to have done the trick. And it looks as though it will continue for a few more weeks. Yahoo!
The standard question I always get asked – what is safe to eat and what is not? Walking through a wood at the moment and you can see scores of different varieties of funghi. The trick is to stick to a few types you know are safe to eat and just ignore the rest. A good book with colourful pictures is handy. I have never been disappointed with any of Roger Phillips books on wild plants so try his Mushroom book – full of photos and good descriptions -(www.amazon.co.uk/Mushrooms-Roger-Phillips/dp/0330442376). There are also lots of photos and descriptions on the internet.
I’d always recommend you go with an experienced funghi friend to actually show you how to know what’s safe and what to leave alone. I tend to stick to mushrooms with a spongy surface underneath rather than the ribbed variety. Field mushrooms and parasols are all great edible mushrooms but they can get confused with other less tasty options so guidance is needed. Around Sussex and elsewhere in the UK there are also plenty of organised mushroom walks on the go through to mid-October so get on the web and sign up. Just put in ‘mushroom walks’ and your county in your search engine and you’ll get some options. For example – www.sosussex.co.uk/mushroomwalks.aspx and for Hants/London – www.fungitobewith.org/
A simple tip – quite a few of the mushrooms that can give you a bad tummy or much worse often have pretty strong colours or just look a bit weird so trust your instincts on these. Some will also give you a serious ‘trip’ (eg the bright red and spotted Fly Agaric) so leave well alone.
OK – you have chosen well and now have a basket (better than a bag as this allows the spores to drop through and create new growing opportunities in future) of edible mushrooms. What now? Essentially you have three main choices – eat them freshly fried, dry them or saute them and store in oil. Fresh – fried slowly in a tiny bit of oil, garlic and a pinch of salt is all you need to do. Delicious on a slice of fresh bread or toast. Or add them to a stew.
Drying mushrooms takes time. Clean the mushrooms – you don’t want dried slugs or maggots if you can help it, slice them thinly and then place on a metal tray in an oven at 50oC with the oven door slightly open. Turn a couple of times to make sure the slices are really dry. This can easily take 3-4 hours. Once dry, place in clean, dry glass containers and then place with open lids once again into the open oven for a further 30-40 minutes to drive out any residual moisture. Close the jars, label up and enjoy over the next 12 months.
Storing in oil means you fry them slowly in garlic and a bit of olive oil, then submerge them in a jar of good oil. I tend to use these over the next four months as later than that the mushrooms get a bit sloppy.
For those who want more details, my friend Iza is giving a talk on storing mushrooms on Sunday 10th October in Lewes. She has been a real guide for me over the above. Organised by Common Cause, the event: ‘Pickled’ www.pickledlewes.co.uk, will form part of the Lewes October Feast, and will celebrate the art of food preservation with fascinating talks and presentations, from storing and bottling to pickling and drying, and feature the towns first official ‘Crop Swap’. Try http://www.commoncause.org.uk/ for details.
Either way, a few slices of the stored mushrooms can really pep up a soup or stew with a delicious taste of Autumn. And you sometimes get lucky and find a rare species. What a pleasure last week when I found two clumps of hedgehog mushrooms – the first I’d found for two years. They were delicious, and friend Geoff, whose birthday it was when we did the walk on that day, was the very lucky boy to be eating them with me. I told him he had just had a £12 starter at a posh restaurant London.
PS. Still trying to identify this one – I figured it’s non-edible……anyone out there who knows it?