Mushrooms / Toadstools and Fungi

Well, as anyone who has been on one of my Wild Food Walks will know I don’t know my fungi and I can’t identify toadstools or tell you which is an edible or a poisonous mushroom.
In fact the lexicon-ology (if there is such a word) of mushrooms and /or toadstools has never been ‘precisely defined, nor is there consensus on application’ says the modern day font of all knowledge Wikipedia, it goes on  ‘There is no clear-cut delineation between edible and poisonous fungi, so that a “mushroom” may be edible, poisonous, or unpalatable… the term “toadstool” is nowadays used in storytelling when referring to poisonous or suspect mushrooms’
Anyway in this week’s copy of the Big Issue Paul and Scruffy writing for the ‘Green Shoots’ column encouraged readers to get out on a guided mushroom walk and this weekend that is exactly what I did in my local park with expert Glen as part of this autumn’s Chesterfield Transition Skills Share workshops.
Despite it being quite late in the season (the walk was originally scheduled for 2 weeks ago, but then it was too dry), we managed to find 3 types of edible mushrooms – Field Mushrooms (but not growing in a field), Blewitts and little tiny baby Jews Ears.
We also found several non-edibles – Sulphur Tops, Greasy Tough Shank, Stump Caps, King Arthurs Cakes (little black blobs on trees which are great for keeping embers going in bushcraft fire situations), lots of LBJs (like bird watching there are lots of ‘little brown jobs’ which, with a great deal of skill, time and patience can be identified, but in the field are classified together!)  The last mushroom to be found was a beautiful white mushroom which Glen skilfully and quickly identified – this made plain how tricky this is – several of us had books and it looked like any number of mushrooms illustrated and not at all very much like the one it actually was!!
The most useful part of the walk was the way Glen showed everyone how work through a key to identify a mushroom and the different parts and how they are described.  He recommended a couple of good books and a website – ‘Collins Gem Mushrooms’ (a great pocket book), Roger Phillips seminal work ‘Mushrooms’ and Roger’s website called simply www.rogersmushrooms.com
Correct identification is of course a real matter of life and death – what a shame we have lost so much knowledge about wild food that our European neighbours have retained.  Take a mushroom into any chemist’s shop in France and the pharmacist will be able to identify it for you and give advice as to its suitability for eating – its part of their training!
But you don’t have to be in the depths of the country to find mushrooms as this letter to the Evening Standard from 1970 shows quoted in Richard Maybe’s ‘Food for Free’
‘On Friday at 5.15pm I gathered 2lbs of fine mushrooms in Berkley Sq, London W1 … a couple of yards from the traffic and evidently ignored or mistrusted by passers by.  May I express my appreciation to Westminster Council for the welcome free garnish to this morning’s breakfast, tonight’s casserole and the weekend’s Coq-au-Vin.’

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