Yesterday I went on a hunt for woodland mushrooms. It feels an odd time of year to be doing this – it’s high summer and the ground is parched – but my local woodland is full of blushers and brittlegills, and the fly agaric (you know, the red one with white spots) is just starting to poke its head out.
There’s a pine wood a couple of miles from my house that is very generous with unusual brittlegills and suillus fungi – lesser cousins of the famous penny bun or cep. The wood has been planted on an old spoil heap left over from Durham’s mining days, and while the pine trees are nearly mature, the woodland floor is covered in young oak, rowan and willow, all waiting for their chance to turn this area into a natural broadleaved wood.
The woodland floor was bone dry and felt crunchy and unstable underfoot – a thick, tinder-dry layer of pine needles thinly covered in vivid green moss. The mushrooms didn’t seem to mind. Sadly the brittlegills – in reds, browns and purples – had been either eaten or kicked over by walkers (why do they do this?). But the suillus were out in force. Mainly slippery jack and velvet bolete. They are both edible but not worth bothering with, so I took some photos and left them alone.
On the way back, walking along a track between two hedgerows, I noticed that the calves in the field to my left were banging about on a metal cattle feeder. I stopped at the gate facing them and watched them for a while. Apart from the occasional head peering out, all I could see was legs. I’m sure they were convinced that I could not see them.
After a while I became aware of a wet slurping sound accompanied by heavy breathing. What was that? I turned round to see a black mass of cows watching me with deep interest as I watched the calves. They were fascinated, and jostled with each other for the best positions at the gate. I crept up to them and one cow – 700478 – was brave enough to touch my hand. After a few minutes they grew bored and I left them.
Today I checked my local wood in the vain hope that the slugs had left an intact yellow brittlegill. It’s one of my favourite mushrooms and has a delicious peppery taste. No luck, so I continued my walk via the cow field behind my house. The field is a complicated arrangement of slopes, dips, corners and boundaries, and I had to wade through the entire herd. They are usually pretty chilled, but even so I’m always a bit apprehensive – I find cows hard to read, as what looks like friendliness can quickly turn into bolshy over-interest.
Most of the cows ignored me, despite many of them having young calves. One calf however was completely in my way, and refused to move away from me, foiling my attempt to walk round the herd, so I had to cut through them instead. Of course they were no bother, but I was glad to get past them.
Veering off the footpath, I checked a favourite spot for field mushrooms. No joy today, but it’s funny how mushrooms tend to reappear in the same place year after year. Last year I was brambling in this field when an over-protective Rottweiler attempted to find out what I tasted like. The only compensation (I was really bricking it – the dog meant business) was that the owner told me where to find giant puffballs in this field. And here is the beauty I found today, with only slight cow damage.
True joy for a mushroom hunter is finding a giant puffball. My heart leapt when I saw it, and I only felt slightly guilty ripping it from the ground. Last year, after my close encounter of the Rottweiler kind, I checked out the spot and found dozens of sporing puffballs, so I know I won’t be harming the puffball population by taking the odd one. And this one could feed me for a couple of weeks. Anyone got any puffball recipes?
(please note, some of these are poisonous. Do not eat unless you know for certain the mushroom’s name and how to prepare it)
- brittlegills (russula) – pretty, mushroom shaped, white stem and brittle white gills
- blusher (amanita rubescens) – looks like a brown version of the fly agaric, bruises browny-pink
- fly agaric (amanita muscaria) – the fairy toadstool – bright red with white spots
- suillus species – related to the famous cep (boletus edulis), usually with slimy caps
- slippery jack (suillus luteus) – slimy chestnut cap with a large ring around the stem
- velvet bolete (suillus variegatus) – tan coloured, no stem ring, can grow quite large
- giant puffball (calvatia gigantea) – looks like a white football (or an alien skull)