Friday, July 3, 2009

A passion I would like to share with all... Mushrooms!

Good Evening all.

Here I was, not wanting to craft or watch tv, listening to the rain falling in a long monotone sound when out of the blue I think the following random thought:

"Mushrooms are gonna grow aplenty after that rain..."

Ok, yes, I know I have random moments sometimes (often times?) but when I'm on the prowl for wild mushrooms, I wait eagerly for the next rainfall. And it had been a while since I blogged (shame on me, I know *slaps own wrist, not too hard*) I felt my Muse kick me up in the behind and get me to talk to you about wild mushrooms. In fact, I think I'm gonna write a blog here and there about them to share my love of the tasty fungi that can be found around the world.

My first blog on wild mushrooms will be more of an introduction really, just to talk common sense and possibly intrigue you enough to come back for some more information.

Now the first reason that I go a-hunting the little buggers (sometimes, NOT so little!) is that there is a large variety of different flavored mushrooms. The second one, it's free food! Thirdly, it's FREE food! Fourthly, It's a fun hobby: you get to go play outside, it can be done alone or with a group of people!

There are groups of people, sometimes amateurs, sometimes veterans, within almost every city that you will see gather together before going for a walk in the woods. Ever wonder why? They are treasure hunting of course...

Now the strip above may contain some funny element in it, but I keep it as a reminder: It is a good thing for people to be wary of mushrooms you see in the wilds as too many people thought this or that mushroom looked just like the ones they bought at the shop... Only to suffer from either severe cramps, skin changing color, or worse, painful death...

Now I want all to understand this: I am no expert. But I can help and provide provide basic information on various Fungi available out there. I will always try to identify a species from multiple sources just to be on the safe side..

** There is one golden rule to follow: If in doubt, don't touch it!

Collecting mushrooms and eating them is an extremely serious endeavour. The first step I will recommend is to get yourself a good book on the mushrooms that can be found in your country. After that, read all of it, no exception, no skipping, no thinking you seen it before. Then, read it again! The more you read it, the more the various types of mushrooms and information about them will stick in your mind.

After that, once you feel ready to go out there to look for mushroom to supplement your larder, take picture of or simply discover while walking in the woods, you'll need some basic tools:

1- Your book! (preferably wrapped in airtight bag, in case it's rainy).
2- A small pocket knife/multi-tool to help you collect the mushrooms
3- A small ruler/measuring tape to help measure your findings
4- Loads of airtight bags to keep each species separate!
5- A small basket or backpack, big enough to carry your mushrooms without crushing them. I favor the basket method if I don't go in an area that is too dense with trees.
6- Most important of all: your common sense!

Equipped with all that, and with multiple excursions, you should be able to find and safely eat wonderful wild mushrooms!

As the picture above shows, no one is too old (or young, with parental supervision, of course) to go and collect mushrooms. If you have a digital camera, and you find a mushroom worthy of taking a pic of, do so! Create for yourself a small archive of where and when you found it: chances are next year there will be some more there!

As can be seen by the picture above (No, it's not a Photoshop Job, I verified for that), mushrooms can grow to a gigantous (Ok, maybe not a real word, but sounds cool) size. Sometimes, it can be quite the opposite. You just never know what treasure you will find.

Here are some guidelines that are very good to follow when you think about mushrooms collecting and eating. I would recommend you save them and print them to keep around if you want to start eating wild mushrooms:

1. Unfamiliar Species:

Check and re-check your identification, especially looking out for a similar poisonous species. If still in doubt, ask an expert or throw it away.

Herne's Tip #1: I like to go with a small camera and a small 6 inch steel ruler, just so I can take pictures and study them later, as mushrooms don't last forever...

2. Examine each specimen:
Always check each specimen in case a different species has got in amongst your collection of edible ones. I have seen it happen more then once.

3. Keep your collections separate:
Do not mix edible and non-edible species in a collecting tray if you are collecting for the pot. It is a good idea if collecting for the pot to only collect edible species and not other species for identification purposes.

Herne's Tip #2: I usually bring multiple plastic bags, sealable ones preferably, when I foray just so I can keep all varieties separate. No chance of contamination then!

4. Check the spore print:
A simple operation, leaving a cap on some white paper for darker mushrooms (brown or paper bag for light colored mushrooms) and covering them for an hour or so. This will help check your identification as many types of mushrooms have a specific type of spores to them.

5. Do not eat raw wild fungi:
Some wild fungi are poisonous if eaten raw, e.g. Wood Blewit, Lepista nuda, the Blusher, Amanita rubescens or species of Helvella. Always cook your collections before eating them. Common sense really...

6. Retain an uncooked specimen:
This is a very sensible idea. Keep one example of what you have eaten in the fridge. In case, you do poison yourself, this will help others identify what you have eaten and therefore know how to treat you. Different species contain different toxins, therefore treatments will vary.

7. Only eat good specimens:
Many poisoning cases occur when edible species are eaten in poor condition. Only eat good specimens!

Herne's Tip #3: As soon as I see any trace of discoloration on a mushroom I picked, I throw it out. Thus far this as prevented me getting ill, unlike some other people I once knew and collected the same mushrooms I had that day...

8. Keep your collections in the fridge:
This keeps your specimens in good condition and fresh for longer.

Herne's Tip #4: I will also place them in separate open plastic containers if I have multiple variety of wild mushrooms. This will insure good food etiquette in your fridge and prevent contamination of the other food in there. Common sense again really...

9. Experimenting:
If experimenting and eating a new type for the first time, only eat a small amount. Different people react to fungi in different ways and it is safer to test your own body out gently!

Herne's tip #5: I have a friend with whom I shared a slice of Giant Puffball with who got really ill after ingesting it. She knew she had some mushroom intolerance from time to time but neglected to mention it... Always ask your guest if they have any reaction to any mushrooms first before serving them, even if you have had no reactions.

10. Alcohol:
Avoid drinking alcohol with species you haven't eaten before and with certain species, e.g. the Common Ink Cap, Coprinus atramentarius.

Herne's experience #6: There are a few species that can easily send you to the hospital in a hurry if ingested with alcohol, read about those as much as you can.

11. Fear:
Do not feed wild mushrooms to people who don't want to eat them. Fear can make people sick.

Herne's Tip #7: I would never let anyone force me to try a mushroom I did not want to try. But do inquire as to how they prepare them and compare with what information you can find. This has proven a very good practice to me: A few friends of mine were cooking wild mushrooms they picked that same day but while discussing where and what they picked, they let slip they used a single basket to collect them (both edible and poisonous kind).

I kindly informed them that I would not eat any of those mushrooms for fear of poisoning. Turned out I was right that time: They went to the hospital that very night, with severe cramps and heavy sweating while their system slowly digested said mushrooms... Not my idea of a relaxing evening .

12. Susceptible people:
Do not serve wild fungi to young children, old or sick people. Their resistance may be lower and cause them some serious issues.

13. Greed:
Do not eat large quantities of wild mushrooms in one sitting. This alone can make you sick.

Herne's Tip #8: Very Mea Culpa on this one. No major effect except for me visiting the "Aulde Worshipping Altar" (toilet in plain speak) all night through... Not pleasant, but definitively my own fault as the mushrooms in question were soooo tasty... Live and learn and grow wiser from it.

So as you can read from above, eating food from the wild can be dangerous to oneself. But with a little bit of proper research, common sense and your trusty book on mushrooms handy, you will discover extremely interesting and tasty mushrooms!

Until next,