For a very long time now, I have been wanting to go on a guided mushrooming walk. One of my favorite things in the world is finding wild food. I love being able to identify plants, and I have a keen eye for gleanable fruit and herbs on our family walks, wherever we may be. But mushrooms are something you don’t just mess around with. Sure, you could find something tasty. Or, you could die. I wasn’t even willing to give it a shot with a good book– I needed an expert if I was even going to try anything I found in the woods.
Experts, it turns out, can charge a whole lot of money to take you mushrooming. I had looked up a bunch of guided walks, but it was going to be somewhere between £50 and £100 for the three of us. I kept looking, and more urgently so as I realized that this is prime fungus season. And then I found the Suffolk Wildlife Trust! This is an awesome organization dedicated to not only preserving the beautiful lands on the many nature preserves in our area, but also developing education and recreational programs to help people learn about and enjoy their surroundings. And guess what? There was an afternoon Fungi Foray with a mycology expert on Sunday, for free!
All three of us were so excited, that it was hard for me not to get worried that our hopes for the event might be too high. The preserve (Knettishall Heath) was just half an hour away from our home, and the day was dreamily foggy, but not too cold.
There was a group of about a dozen people, mostly a generation older than Jeff and me. Some were fungi enthusiasts, while others seemed to know as little as we did. Although the outings was intended for families, there were only two children there, including Amelia.
This year was lousy for gardens, but it has apparently been very, very good for mushrooms! Our expert told us that they did this last year, and only found four varieties, and three of them were growing on trees rather than on the ground. It took no time at all for us to find our first fungus: the Puffball Mushroom.
This one was very small, but they can actually get surprisingly large. I saw one in a TV show that was about the size of a football! These are pure white and kind of spongy inside, and although very edible, they’re still pretty bland.
Soon, we found the non-edible look-alike, the Earthball:
It looks the same on the outside, but when you cut it open, it’s full of dark grey spores, and smells of burnt rubber.
Most mushrooms had a distinct smell, and so we all did lots of sniffing.
Next up, someone found one of the more choice edibles in our area, the Bay Boletus:
The underside looks like sponge, instead of defined gills. This one made it home with us!
It didn’t take long to find one of the scarier ‘shrooms, Fly Agaric:
Pretty though, right?
Speaking of pretty, have you ever had purple mushrooms? I had never seen these before: Amethyst Deceivers. They are apparently very good for eating.
OK, so I’m not going to show you every single piece of fungus we found! But here are some of the pictures I took as we tromped through forest and heathland.
Also, I really need to tell you that the land we covered was amazing, unlike anything I have ever seen before. The forest was really like a fairytale forest, the ground covered in soft pine needles and tree bark, sprouting big sword ferns, and of course littered with colorful mushrooms. The heath was mossy and covered with heather and more ferns. You guys, we had to wait to go into that part because there were wild ponies chasing each other, galloping in circles in the picture on the lower right. They finished their game and watched us through the trees in the forest, as we gathered more fungi. It was an extremely pleasant 2.5 hours.
At the end of our foray, we put all of the mushrooms on the table for further identification and examination. We had collected about 50 varieties! Most of them were non-edible, but we did get some key pointers on good edibles we might find in the future.
Then we got the chilling lesson on Death Cap mushrooms. The cap below has enough toxins to kill three adults. (We all shuddered. )
Unfortunately, this is one of the most common fungi in our forests. On that sobering note, we all packed up and said our goodbyes.
We brought home a small Puffball, a Bay Bolete and Amethyst Deceivers for an omelette dinner that evening.
How very satisfying! We will be looking for more fungi forays to join this month, taking advantage of the good mushroom weather.
Do you ever go mushroom foraging? What other wild food is available in your area?
By the way, I’ll be posting some extra mushroom pictures on the And Here We Are Facebook page, if you’d like to see more! Also, you can read about how this lesson paid off– we hit the jackpot in a beech forest just a week or so later.
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