I have found lots of unusual and fascinating fungi, but the vast majority of them are either inedible or poisonous.
With the help of online friends, the internet and a number of books I have learned a lot about fungi these last couple of years, and I can now confidently recognise quite a few edible species. All authorities agree that unless you are absolutely sure of a fungus's identity you should not eat it, so today I am going to describe how I have added another edible species to my list this week.
For me, the first step is to understand WHERE a fungus grows. Many species only grow in / on / under a particular type of tree, and if you know this it helps a lot with your search. Yesterday I spotted a large group of orangey-brown fungi growing in the moss in a clearing in a mixed Birch and Pine wood. My premier resource, Geoff Dann's book "Edible Fungi" lists a typical habitat for every species covered, e.g. "coniferous woodland, especially Pine". My opening gambit therefore was to look for orange-brown fungi that live under Pine trees.
I normally take photos to help me later on to confirm the identity of a fungus, and I have learned to take shots from above, below and the side! If I think something looks promising (for eating, I mean) I sometimes bring home a few specimens for further investigation.
The underside of a fungus's cap is particularly important when it comes to identification. Does it have gills, pores, tubes, spikes etc?
The shape, size and colouring of the stipe or stem of a fungus can also be an important identification feature. It often has distinctive markings, such as lines, dots or a sort of lacy pattern called reticulation.
Likewise, the colour of the stem and flesh when bruised or cut can be important. Notice the pink tinge at the base of the stems in the photo above. In the photo below you can see how the pores on the underside of this (Bay Bolete) fungus have turned blue when pressed firmly:
Taste and smell can also be aspects of identification. I haven't yet plucked up the courage to try eating pieces of raw fungi, but I can certainly identify a couple of fungus species by their smell. The other day I was able to locate a patch of Hedgehog fungi by their smell, even before I spotted them visually!
They always say that to be 100% sure of the identity of a fungus you should carry out a spore-print test. This is how you do it - cut off the stem of a good specimen and lay the cap down flat on a piece of paper and leave it overnight. Some of the spores will fall off onto the paper and you will be able to examine them for colour - and shape, if you have a magnifying-glass.
|These fungi have produced a greenish-brown spore-print.|
Yesterday I posted some of the photos you see above onto my Facebook page, and within minutes one of my friends suggested an ID - the Bovine Bolete, Suillus Bovinus aka The Jersey Cow. I looked this one up on the internet and in my books. Everything matched:
Colour (including the lighter edges of the caps), shape, size, habitat, the pink tinge at the base of the stems, the tubes on the undersides of the caps, the "olive-brown" spore-print, etc. A positive ID!
The only bad thing is that some sources rate this mushroom as edible but not a great delicacy. Geoff Dann, whose opinion I trust, says "...a useful component in a mix of fried mushrooms, it goes an attractive pink colour when cooked." I tried cooking my 3 sample specimens... They did go through a faintly pink stage, but after a couple of minutes they were a nice russety brown colour:
|Yes, I suppose they are faintly pink!|
OK, so now that you know I am careful with identifying fungi before eating them, let me show you this:
If you like mushrooms at all, I think you'll agree that this is a pretty sight! These mushrooms (mostly Brown Birch Boletes and Bay Boletes, and not including my sample Bovine Boletes), cooked up with onion, garlic, butter, black pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of chilli flakes, are going to be served tonight, stirred into some soft Polenta. I'm sure they will be yummy!