Monday, 23 November 2009

Shaggy Parasols & Chestnut Boletes

I hunted for mushrooms for the first time ever yesterday. We drove with our avid mushroom hunting friends, Dougal, Deirdre and their dog Doom, to Sackrow, where they know some special spots for Ceps and other boletes. It's a little late for Ceps, but Deirdre thinks Chestnut (or Bay, oder 'Maronen', auf Deutsch) Boletes taste even better. John Wright in his book, Mushrooms, says Chestnut Boletes break the mycophagist rule of thumb about the relationship between 'blue' and 'poison'. These mottley guys immediately stain bluish green when their flesh tears, which definitely disturbed my appetite, but apparently the blue is completely benign. Most of the Chestnut Boletes we found were a little soggy (they soak up water like sponges) and slug nibbled, making them better dried than cooked fresh. So as yet, I haven't dispelled my slight blue discontent.

The Bay Boletes are those mushrooms in the pic above resembling old autumn leaves, which are exactly what they disguise themselves as, half-buried in the mossy pockets under pine trees. It was with a feeling of pure delight that I finally found the eyes to tell the difference between their slight but solid roundness and the lightness of just a fallen leaf.

Shaggy Parasols, which are the whiter of the mushrooms above, have quite a different outlook to the Chestnuts. Mostly, I spotted them as we drove along the forest roads with the van's side door open. With their 10cm long stems, they announce themselves against the green and brown of the forest floor. You can tell a Shaggy Parasol because it doesn't stain any colour when you tear its flesh.  Even better than this, it smells like warm milk! What a gift on a damp German afternoon in the forest.

John Wright has a gorgeous description of his relationship to these parasols, and I enjoyed it so much, allow me to reproduce it here:

There is no more astounding sight in an autumn field than a stand of Parasols. These stately, delicious and often enormous mushrooms can sometimes be spotted a quarter of a mile away and it can be difficult to stop oneself from running to pick them. The trouble is that, when you get there, they can look too good to pick and you may find your aesthetic and culinary sensibilities at war. I content myself with just a few of the more closed caps and leave the open ones to both produce their spores and grace the landscape. Honestly.

I'm so pleased to finally be initiated into mushroom hunting and to have more reason to consult this book. Wright is filled with such a gentle humour and love for mushrooms, reading him lifts me into daydreams and I feel compelled to write "finding a Chicken of the Woods" into my new year's resolutions.

By the way, it seems that smell is one of mushrooms' magic properties. Apart from the Parasol's warm milk seductions, there are other spells: Horse mushrooms smell of aniseed, Coconut Milkcaps and Curry Milkcaps of their namesakes, Oak Milkcaps of carrots, Sulphur Knights of coal gas and Stinkhorns of rotting meat. We found another mushroom while hunting yesterday, which Deirdre and Dougal hadn't seen before, but was there in abundance. Broad and brown, when snapped it smelt of roasted potatoes. Is it possible for a mushroom that smells this good to poison? Have mushrooms, like humans, evolved the art of deception?

Recommended Reading: Mushrooms by John Wright (introduced by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall), River Cottage Handbook No. 1, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2007.

No comments:

Post a Comment