On Sunday it rained. And rained. And rained. And in the afternoon, it cleared. The fungi season has come late upon us, due to a prolonged dry spell. We were keen to see if recent wet weather had persuaded any mushrooms or fungi to sprout. There were some, but not as many as we are used to. and mostly of the 'dull' beige-brown variety which blend in with the fallen leaves.
We did discover a new, prolific corner of the woods, which was crammed with goodies. To his delight, Andy found a 'Penny Bun'. If you watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Valentine Warner and the rest of our lovely hunter-gathering TV chefs, you might believe that all you have to do is walk into a field and Boletus/Chicken of the Woods/Truffles/Morels/Chanterelles will be growing in abundance, conveniently within camera shot and almost leap-frogging into your picturesque basket. Sadly, despite many years of fungi hunting, I have yet to find such happy hunting grounds, and this is the very first we have found, anywhere. See the little knife? It belonged to Andy's grandfather. We always cut the stalks, to avoid pulling up the root system. Remember this knife; it makes another appearance, later on.This part of the woods proved to be a treasure trove. It was also Someone Else's pet puffball patch; there were white cut stumps, evidencing another fungi gatherer. We found plenty of others. I was particularly interested in a colony of what looked like Shaggy Parasoles, but were browner than any I had ever seen. I didn't trust my judgement enough to pick any. Bliss it is to shuffle through autumn leaves, ducking under branches, hunting for mushrooms to photograph or pick. It got dark all too soon, but we were partly compensated by a lovely sunset. We headed home with our foragings. Supper was rather inevitable, with homemade bread. Earthy tasting goodness.
At once I found some wood blewits, already feasted on by some woodland creature, but there were enough for me to gather.
Back to the new puffball patch. Sure enough, since our last visit, more had popped up. Some had gone over; only ever eat the white fruit bodies- if the interior is anything other than pristine white, discard. I learnt this the hard way when I was eleven and gave myself a very nasty upset stomach, eating a slightly yellowing specimen. This one is already at the 'puff' stage, exploding to let loose powdery spores.
I revisited my 'are-they-aren't-they' possible shaggy parasoles. They had grown pretty fast and were looking more familiar. Here they are, on Sunday - And today - I picked one close by that I was sure was 'right'. Looking at this fallen one, it has all the characteristics of a shaggy parasole. But I would need to get home to double check. Further on I found a wonderful city of fresh Birch Polypores, or 'razor strops'. They are inedible, but look so pretty growing together. My fungi bible, 'Mushrooms' by Roger Phillips, records that Otzi, the 'Iceman' mummy found in the Alps, was carrying some, possibly for antibiotic use. Now I wanted to see how the large fly agaric that we had found on Sunday was faring. First of all I located its baby brother. The other day it had looked like this; Today it was missing most of it's white spots, but had survived fairly well.
Cheek by jowl were also growing wood blewits (top left corner) puffballs, (centre right) and there is our rotting agaric friend lying in the leaf mould (bottom right corner). A little more cropping to be done. Reaching in my pocket for the knife I found - nothing. Well, my gloves, my mobile, assorted bags and various other gubbins, but no knife. Oh, how many times had I nagged poor Andy about looking after his Grandfather's knife, and 'give it to me or you'll lose it'...
With my heart beating faster I followed my route back to the last place I might have left it - the maybe-parasol patch. Did I carelessly put it down while I was taking shots of them? Yes, I had. Oh happy day! There it was, blending in rather too well with the woodland floor. Can you see it? Look closer... I felt a huge wave of relief at not losing a precious family heirloom (and not mine either). Back it went to the safety of my pocket. I retraced my steps again, harvested a few Blewits and puffballs, and found the large Fly Agaric Andy had found on Sunday. Then it looked like this - Today it is decaying beautifully; the red skin must be particularly delicious to slugs, although the whole thing is, of course, poisonous to humans. I returned across the fields to my bike, pondering that I was sure I had found parasoles along the edge here before, and sure enough, as if prompted - can you spot them? The little darlings. And their big brother growing in splendid solitude nearby; Out came the nearly-lost knife and into my bag they went. A good haul. Back at the cottage, I checked my bible, and confirmed that I had indeed picked two types of Parasole Mushrooms. The flesh turns pinky red when it is cut or bruised and the not-quite-sure one with the browner cap was already blushing. I cannot emphasise enough that you should check, check and check again when identifying mushrooms to eat. I always do, even though this has been my hobby since I was 10. I will eat nothing if in doubt; use a guide to see early fruiting stages, read about the habitat, whether it is rare, what it can be confused with. Google image search is a very good way of seeing various specimens and finding useful websites. I am pleased to relate that the blewits, puffballs and parasoles provided an excellent lunch, with no side effects.