I’m sure it’s not correct grammar but it’s true. I bloody love it! Autumn in the woods; that slight chill in the air and a mission to find some elusive and wonderful foods that have been hiding all year. Carluccio calls it “the quiet hunt” and when I’m not running a course and therefore talking my way through the woods, that’s exactly what it is. A quiet, careful, sense stimulating treasure hunt.
It’s the first day of November and it’s been a very strange season for fungi, edible or otherwise. Despite some incredibly lazy desk top journalism in one of the broadsheets claiming all the wet weather is good for mushrooms (utter rubbish), it has not been such a good year. My birthday at the end of June is usually blessed with a bounty of wild Oyster mushrooms. This year not a single one showed up for the party. As with most truly wild foods, these don’t taste like the version you buy in the shops, in fact their wonderful subtle taste reminds me of fried eggs or fresh noodles more than of mushrooms. On the subject of wild verses farmed foods, I picked up a packet of pathetic looking “wild” spinach in a shop recently and read that it was farmed in Kent…is it just me or is this confusing?
Anyway, to get back to all things fungi, it is not too late to take to the woods and find a couple of the late season gourmet delights. I strongly recommend you do this with someone who knows their stuff and also I would suggest getting out of the city for two reasons. One, it’s lovely out in the woods right now and two, city fungi can really absorb a lot of pollutants, heavy metals, fumes etc. The top rated Porcini mushroom (aka the cep, the penny bun or to give it it’s latin name Boletus edulis) has not really fruited well this year but three of my favorites have.The Trooping Funnel Cap (Latin name Clitocybe geotropa), Winter Chanterelle (Cantherellus infundibuliformis…..yes , it’s really called that) and The Hedgehog Fungus (Hydnum repandum)are all having quite a good year….with a little help, all are easy to recognise and relatively hard to confuse with anything potentially dangerous (even so, not for beginners with a book). They all taste great and should be around for the next three to four weeks if you know where to look, or know someone who does.
This year I have been running mushroom courses for two fellow foragers, Frazer Christian who runs https://www.wildforage.co.uk/ and Robin Harford at https://www.foragingcourses.com/. They may still have some places left for our November 18th walk….plug over, sorry about that. The photo above is of a Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus) that we found on our walk in The New Forest two weeks ago and yes it is edible, but this one was far too fine an example to start chopping up. I hope it will still be in reasonable shape for the walk I’m hosting this weekend as it’s only a minute from the car park we set out from. It’s easy to think that late autumn is the only time to hunt for mushrooms but with the right knowledge or the right guide there is something interesting to eat most of the year, from the enormous Oyster mushrooms I picked in my local park on Christmas day last year (see the picture in my gallery), to the caramel tasting Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) I found on an elder tree in Dorset on a freezing February day earlier this year, right through to the Winter Chanterelles that I have gathered frozen from under a thin crust of snow (I don’t know any other mushrooms that cope with the cold like this). There are still a few good weeks left of the main season so get out there if you can and I hope your efforts and mine are well rewarded.