Thursday, 13 March 2008

Article published in Chesham Towntalk magazine (Autumn 2007)

Fungi Fun

By Jade Parsonage

It's been another bumper year for all things fungi. The brief spells of hot weather and the amazing down pours have created just the right environment for a multitude of mushroomy offerings scattered around the Chesham countryside..

In Chesham we are quite open to the idea of eating interesting foods. Probably because although we live in a country market town we are reasonably cosmopolitan with a wonderful array of cultures who don't think it's unusual to go foraging for wild mushrooms. Why not? They are there for the picking, free more diverse and fresher than anything you could get from the shops.
As a nation we used to be braver when it came to pick your own wild mushrooms but somehow we have become increasingly reliant on supermarkets to make this decision for us. The knowledge of which mushrooms are ok to eat is being lost to all but the enthusiastic few.

In France you can take your fungi finds to your local pharmacy to be identified. I can't see the lovely pharmacists in Garlicks, Boots or any of the Chesham chemists being quite so open to the idea but I would openly encourage it!

Other countries are much more excepting more unusual fungi than we are. In Munich you can buy over 300 separate species of fungi in the markets and in France 30 wild fungi species are sold commercially.

The U.K gets through 30,000 tons of cultivated mushrooms every year. Why cultivate them when you can gather them for free?

Before exploring anywhere you must make sure that you have the permission of the landowner and take a good mushroom reference guide with you. I prefer 'Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain' by Roger Phillips for its clear photographs and no nonsense approach.

Only harvest fungi that satisfy all the specifications for season, size, colour environment in your field guide. You'll find that your confidence identifying edible specimens will grow with practise and you will also find indentify the best places to find them.

The National trusts Ashridge estate runs fungi forays and apart from being great fun they are a remarkable way to learn the relevant features of each fungi group and boost your confidence.

Other countries are much more excepting of other fungus than we are. In Munich you can buy over 300 separate species of fungi in the markets and in France 30 wild fungi species are sold commercially.

It's worth pointing out that although mushrooms need to be treated with caution, out of the 3000 or so species of large bodied fungi found in the U.K only 20 or so of these are seriously poisonous.

You can find mushrooms in a wide range of habitats around Chesham. Scour your own garden, the Moor, Chesham bois woods, Lowndes Park and Nashleigh rec. Just start looking and trying to identify them. Soon you'll realise that they are all around you and sometimes in the oddest of places. On old park benches for example. Camera phones are also useful for preliminary identification. Make the most of this fabulous time of year and go mushroom hunting. Even better take the kids along.

Drying mushrooms.

Drying is one of the oldest and best methods of preserving mushrooms and useful in times of abundance. My shelves are absolutely burdened by an assortment of dried mushrooms. They reconstitute well when soaked in warm water or you can add them dried to soups, stews and casseroles. It's very easy to do.

Ensure your edible fungi are clean (and are edible!)

Arrange them on a baking tray

Small or thin mushrooms can be dried at 50 degrees c for a couple of hours and larger offerings can be dried at 70 degrees. Of course you can cut them up.

Alternatively, thread string through them and hang them up in your airing cupboard until dried. This can make the room smell a bit mushroomy though!

Jades' Wild mushroom relish

This is a hybrid recipe combining a recipe for 'Mushroom Catchup' by Kettilby who wrote down 300 odd recipes in the 18th Century and Mushroom pickle from 'Complete Home cookery' published by Fleetway house. It's a really meaty flavoursome relish that's a great warming snack on hot buttered toast after one of those wonderful chilly Autumnal walks. Even better, it keeps for at least a year, getting better as it matures and after you have eaten it all you can use the residual vinegar as an out of the world salad dressing. I've made it many times and it always works well. Use any edible mushrooms except ink caps as they seem to dissolve to nothing.

On a low heat put 200g of wild mushrooms in a saucepan with a small handful of salt. A lot of liquid will come out of the mushrooms. Cook them over a low heat until the liquid has evaporated. Add a 100g of chopped shallots, 2 cloves of garlic (or a large handful of chopped wild garlic), a teaspoon of crushed black pepper, a thumb sized nugget of fresh ginger, roughly chopped, a dozen cloves, a few blades of mace and a bay leaf. Cover the mixture with vinegar and bring the whole lot to the boil for a few minutes. Allow to cold slightly before pouring into jars.

Have fun foraging for your fungi and remember to 'identify, identify, identify.'

For more information Ashridges fungi forays phone: 01494 755557 or look at their website and for more mushroom recipe ideas look at

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