Forager and author of Fungi Forays, Daniel Butler is keen to encourage us all to be braver when it comes to picking and eating wild mushrooms and explains, “Last year five people were killed in bucket related accidents and 91 people died falling out of bed. No one died from eating a poisonous mushroom.”
It is this refreshing and reassuring approach that will endear you to the fungi forager. He explains, “The best beginner’s mushroom meets three criteria. Firstly, choose something that is very distinctive in appearance like Chicken of the Woods (the yellow dinner-plate fungi which grows on Oak trees).
Secondly, make sure there are no possible dangerous look-a-likes and thirdly, if you do finally pluck up courage to eat what you have harvested, make sure you get the maximum taste reward. The Porcini or cep is a good one to start with. These are one of the few mushrooms that taste better dried than fresh so are good to pick now and store.
Beginners are often intimidated by too many varieties so it is better to slowly build up a repertoire of what you know and what you like. They all taste different and you probably won’t like most of them. The Puffballs are foolproof, you can’t them wrong but I don’t think they are worth the taste.”
Having been foraging for fungi for over 15 years, Daniel promotes Wales as a mushroom mecca, “Wales is brilliant for mushrooms as so much of the land is untouched and unimproved. It also has a much better mushroom climate than Europe, being damp and mild. The most common mushroom in Wales is the porcini or cep. Coniferous forests are awash with these every autumn. I once picked over 50kg from one woods in one visit. They are often well camouflaged but worth hunting for.”
Daniel has recently collated a series of essays as a Kindle book ‘A Mushroom is a Misunderstood Rose’. Dispelling many fears and myths it is also packed with fascinating fungi facts, as Daniel relates, “A lot of mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees. 99% of plants couldn’t survive without fungi and neither could humans. We are very ignorant about them and their virtues. On a cellular level, mushrooms are closer to humans than plants.”
I ask him about the Fairy Ring on my own lawn. “The Fairy Ring Champignon is a gorgeous tasting mushroom,” he starts off encouragingly, “but it does have a poisonous look alike. Once you know that, they are very easy to tell apart. Just have a look in Fungi Forays!”
My Dad used to adore fresh field mushrooms but they always used to make him really ill. I mentioned this to Daniel who explained, “Most field mushrooms are edible and closely related to the mushrooms you buy in the shops however there is one called a Yellow Stainer, which bruises yellow. It’s edible for 50% of people but 50% will have an allergic reaction and will spend a couple of hours on the toilet. Mushrooms are intense in protein and often quite hard to digest for many people. But it’s worth persevering. Generally poisonous ones taste disgusting and you’ll throw up before you ingest enough of it to kill you.” he reminds me.
And if you still need reassurance, Daniel also runs fabulous fungi day courses in New Rhayder, which include a three course meal for just £50.00 Find out more and sign up for his fabulous newsletter at www.fungiforays.co.uk