Friday, 10 October 2008

How to Hunt Mushrooms

I must be due another post about picking mushrooms – why it is the height of the season! Recently I have been pondering what skills/abilities are needed to pick mushrooms. This has been caused by two English friends asking me to show them how to do it, which in turn has got me asking that very question how do I do it. I feel hugely unqualified to teach anyone, but in England I suppose I might pass as experienced.

I know for a fact that I would never have started mushrooming if I simply had learnt from a book or books, no matter how good they were. I needed, and I think most people need, a teacher/mentor who took me through those first few steps in which one gains confidence. That is how it began for me – being shown by my Czech friend – and now it is my turn to pass it on. Of course there are so many mushrooms and there are very different views on what is good eating and what is not (just look at the reference books which often are odds with other). This will mean that your mentor will pass on to you their preferences. This will reflect differences in national attitudes to mushrooms. A list of the top 20 edible mushrooms in Russia included several at the top, which are not only considered inedible in this country but even poisonous. I have noticed that the Czechs prize boletuses above all, and they don't seem to pick tree-growing fungi such as two favourites of mine - chicken in the woods and hen in the woods.

One of the first things my friend taught me was that some of the safest mushrooms to pick are those that look least like the sort of mushroom we buy in Tescos – boletuses and chanterelles for example. In fact some of the most deadly mushrooms look like ordinary mushrooms. Why, only a few days ago I picked some smoky mushrooms which are poisonous and which I had mistaken for ordinary mushrooms (I always check mushrooms against the books when I get them home) . So start with those that you can't mistake for anything else, until your confidence grows. The second rule is learn what the poisonous ones look like. Fortunately there aren't that many that will kill you or even make you seriously ill, there are quite a few which will taste revolting but that is another matter. You'll need to get some books to help you learn what things look like and to check what you have picked – one book is not enough (I have six in England and four in the Czech Republic). My books are regular reading, they are great toilet library material. Using these books I have increased my repertoire slowly and tried each new type carefully, eating only a little at first (they may not be poisonous but they might not work for you).

So there are a few thoughts on the subject. If you decide to take up mushrooming, I hope you enjoy it. I am eternally grateful to my Czech friend for introducing me to one of my great pleasures.

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