The nights are drawing in and there is a chill in the air. Autumn is a special time of year for those that love to venture outdoors. Each season has its own special character.
Why is autumn so wonderful?
One reason I love the autumn is the colours. The leaves of the tress in the northern forests are changing from vibrant green to warm yellows and bright reds. There is that sense that another year is coming to a close. Yet we have plenty more to explore. All sorts of beautiful fungi are now making an appearance. There is so much variety of shape and form and textures during the autumn. We can gather so many delicious edibles. The hedgerows a full of the bright red fruits of the Hawthorn and the Blackthorn is laden with Sloes. Chestnuts and Cobnuts are easy to identify.
Fungi, mushrooms and toadstools come in all shapes and sizes. There are literally 1000s of varieties found in the UK. Some are easy to identify and can be harvested with confidence others are for more experienced foragers and should only be picked when you are 100 percent certain of your identification. In France a foraging culture is more prevalent with many villages organising mushroom walks and the local pharmacy will often identify your bounty.
In the UK there are lots of organised Fungi forays. Walks and talks to encourage the love of fungi. Fungi form a vital function within the ecosystem capturing moisture, breaking down decaying plant matter returning these nutrients to the soil. Many invertebrates live on and within fungi. Therefore like all wild foods we must take care only picking enough for our needs leaving plenty of mushrooms to spore the next generation so we can enjoy a sustainable crop year on year.
Families will often keep their favourite foraging locations as a closely guarded secret.
The other consideration is where is my choice mushroom growing. Just like seaweed and shellfish. One needs to carefully look at what may have contaminated my breakfast treat. Chicken of the Woods (Laeiporus sulphurus) is fairly easy to identify with its bright yellow colouration. It’s tasty but can often be found growing on Yew trees. All parts of the Yew are toxic. Taxol is used in the treatment of cancer so something I want to avoid.
Like all wild foods some people can tolerate fungi whilst others my find they are sensitive to them. One of the Forest Knights team cannot eat Chicken of the Woods but loves most mushrooms. If you’re going to try a new type of fungi for the first time check your identification. Then recheck using a second guide book. Eat a little to ensure you don’t have an adverse reaction.
Like all wild edibles fungi are at their best when young and tender. Often when foraging the wildlife will have got there first and you will find that the slugs and insects have had a feast. Rather than be disappointed make a note of the location there is always next season.
Another Fungi I am happy to teach is the Giant PuffBall (Calvatia gigantea)
Giant Puffballs can grow really big hence their name 15cm -70cm is not uncommon. The giant puffball resembles a large off white ball. Its texture should be nice and firm. They can be found in open grassland as well as in deciduous woodland. The giant puff ball needs little preparation. My preferred cooking method is to simply slice into steaks and gently fry with a knob of butter. Fantastic with a slab of home smoked bacon and some organic eggs.