Friday, September 02, 2005

Mycological Madness

I have always been partial to mushrooms. Big fat flatcap mushrooms sauteed in butter with a little garlic and served on toast: what could possibly be nicer.
Recently I decided to widen my horizons and explore the esoteric world of wild fungi. The damp, temperate climate of the British Isles is ideally suited to the growth of fungi. Perhaps that explains my smelly socks; but I'll leave that subject for another day.
The continental Europeans are huge fans of wild mushrooms. We, for some inexplicable reason, are absolutely terrified of the things. The very word 'toadstool' conjures up visions of evil goblins, and witches stirring vile concoctions in cauldrons. We like PROPER mushrooms, by which we mean the uniform little white ones that come neatly packaged on the supermarket shelves.
Last year I armed myself with a field guide to British fungi and headed into the woods with a basket ready for filling. I'm sure that I must have looked a total twat; a cross between a trainspotter, an obsessive twitcher, and a potential child molester. I ventured forth bravely, field guide in hand, prepared for any whoops of adolescent derision which might be directed my way.
I was pretty clueless, but did manage to identify the 'chanterelle', a delicately gilled, peachy yellow fungi much prized by the best chefs. I collected a few, along with some other specimens for later identification, and returned home.
The chanterelle is one of the easiest of the edible fungi to identify. It has a unique shape and an aroma of apricots. Quickly fried in butter it has a delicious, delicate taste and texture. They can be quite difficult to find. If you do manage to find a patch it is best to keep the knowledge to yourself, just in case a rival fungi fiend should plunder your hoard.
I'm still a rookie where fungi are concerned. There are some real nasties out there; the aptly named 'Destroying Angel' destroys the liver, kidneys, and circulatory systems, and the 'Death Cap' does exactly what it says. There is no antitode, and a slow unpleasant death is assured within 10 days of consumption.
One other variety which I can confidently identify is the 'Liberty Cap'', more commonly known as the magic mushroom. Strangely, it is perfectly legal to pick the things, but if you dry them they are classifiable as a Class A drug. I haven't sampled them. My sanity is questionable at the best of times without me messing around with hallucinogens.
If you fancy having a go yourself, be VERY VERY careful. It's worth taking along someone who is knowledgeable (unlike me). If you are not sure what something is, do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES eat it.


Danny said...

brilliant post, i particularly like how you can something completely random and make it lucid, concise and really interesting. a blogger post about wild mushrooms should be dry, uninteresting and consigned to p26 in the independent saturday supplement magazine. this was great though, it reminded me of my medieval witchcraft lectures for some reason

MHN for short said...

That's VERY sage advice there Alice!!

Have you been mushroom hunting since your first excursion? My sisters drank mushroom tea once. I was with them. It smelled like poo. gross. And I don't think they got highoff of it, but they were smoking dope at the time too. Stupid.

Merkin said...

I worked as a mushroom picker once, in the almost pitch black, under some railway arches, plucking those uniform white fungi from piles of stinking manure. I lasted 2 days. Worst job EVER - and it took a daily 45 minute shower to get rid of the smell. Some say I never quite managed it....

garfer said...

Ta guys.The mushrooms are starting to appear in force. I will be continuing my research.
That is definitely up there in the crap jobs top ten.

Rowan said...

An interesting hobby; one I've been afraid thus far, though interested in, taking up. I would probably eat the one in the wrong hand and die an unfortunate death