Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My First Foray into Mushrooms

Where I walk the dog every day at the moment there is a large alder tree, and one day I spotted that it had a beautiful fungus growing on it. It seemed to have come up over night - unlikely, although I can't believe I missed it because it is so bright! I did some research and found out that it is Chicken of the Woods, aka the Sulphur Polypore, or Laetiporus sulphureus.

Apparently this is an unmistakable mushroom,even for the completely unexperienced mushroom-forager, like me. All the signs were right - the fact it was growing on a deciduous tree, its colouring (including the waves of colour around the edges), the shape and size, its suede-like surface and meaty, fibrous texture, the fact that instead of gills, it has small pores, and the time of year.

Not for nothing is it called Chicken of the Woods. It is edible, apparently very pleasant (although it is better to eat the younger parts of the fungus, as the older parts can be crumbly and dry). When I peeled off a few younger lobes I was surprised by how much its inner texture resembled cooked chicken. Anyway, I brought a small amount home to try, as apparently, although edible, it doesn't agree with everyone, and it is better to try a small amount first.

Anyway, Mammabert sauteed it in olive oil, with garlic, and made sure that it was well cooked. She didn't really want to try it, but she did. She said it wasn't unpleasant but I don't think I will manage to persuade her to sample it again. I loved it however. It was mild-flavoured, perhaps with a slight citrussy tang, and its meaty texture reminded me of Quorn. I don't eat Quorn because a) if I don't want to eat meat, it seems odd to eat something that is produced to almost exactly resemble meat in appearance and texture, and b) it uses battery eggs, and c) I don't really like it. But I really liked this Chicken of the Woods. Like natural Quorn, but nicer, with a lovely woody smell when raw.

Anyway, that was my first ever wild mushroom experience, and I haven't died yet. I did a lot of research, both on the internet and in books, before I even touched the mushroom. I recommend getting a book on Mushrooms - I've been using the Collins Gem Mushrooms, and Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. The first one is a pocket guide with clear guidelines as to what is edible and what isn't. The Collins Complete doesn't tell you anything about whether a mushroom is edible/poisonous, but has really good descriptions and photographs to help you identify. The River Cottage handbook on mushrooms is also good, although I find the fact that it is split into two sections - one each for edible and poisonous mushrooms - a bit daft, as if your average person sees a mushroom, they have no idea which category it fits into. The Collins guides are more accessible in that the fungi are grouped according to family and appearance.

Anyway, that was my first wild mushroom foraging experience! I found it really good fun, but please don't use this blog as the only identifier for Chicken of the Woods. Get a good book or two, research on the internet, and even ask someone you know who is an experienced mushroomer. I'm a novice, so don't take my word for it on its own.

Disclaimer done. Enjoy mushrooming!

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