Wild mushroom diary (Autumn 2020/Winter 2021)

Since the second Covid lockdown here in the UK, I’ve revived a childhood interest and gone out looking for wild mushrooms, especially edible ones. It’s been a nice way to be outside with a sort of purpose, and something to do rather than just walking.

Field Blewit, Ugly Milkcap, Meadow Waxcap, Crimson Waxcap, Turkey Tail, Velvet Shanks

I’m not an expert, and recommend instead websites like Wild Food UK or First Nature, Facebook groups such as Mushroom Spotters UK, and a number of easy-to-find books (definitely not iPhone apps). However, I do know a bit about the edible ones I’ve found and, in the spirit of early 2000’s holiday-photo blogs, I thought I’d summarise them as a record of a nice hobby in a rubbish time.

I started in late Autumn, whereas the mushroom season begins properly in late Summer, so I missed many of the earlier species. That said, even with some heavy frosts, I’ve been able to find crops of good edibles as late as January.

Finally: there are many, many different species out there, some can kill you with a few bites, and some of those look very similar to edible ones. Anyone starting out should focus on learning the common poisonous and edible mushrooms, and rigorously check each ID for similar species, which any decent reference will tell you about. Only eat ones you are 100% sure about, don’t try them raw, and only try a tiny amount the first time.

For each mushroom below, I’ll link to the Wild Food UK page and write some notes on whatever comes to mind, including the kind of habitat I found it in and some culinary tips if they were worth it. Do not rely on my information for anything other than idle interest — find and use one of the proper sources I mentioned above!

Beefsteak Fungus

A shelf-like fungus I found on an oak tree. Looks exactly like meat, seemed like a nice texture to cook with, but not much taste about it. Maybe I didn’t find a good recipe. This was the first one I found and I didn’t really like it so there isn’t much more to write.

Horse Mushroom (probably)

There are a few other Agaric types this could be, but I think it’s a Horse Mushroom. I found it in the grass on a golf course in late October, and couldn’t carry it back so haven’t tried it, but they’re supposed to be very nice. I was mainly impressed by how utterly huge it was.

Shaggy Parasol

A relative of the very-prized Parasol. It tastes great, though I tested just small bit the first time because some people are allergic (you should follow this with any wild mushroom really). Found in a ring around an Oak tree in London, in dense leaf litter.

Winter Chanterelle

I went to a randomly-selected patch of forest in Kent one day, hoping to find these, and found a lot very quickly. That was great. They seemed to like mixed conifer and broadleaf woodlands, or transition zones e.g. from conifers to birch, especially on sloped ground. I also recently found some in Yorkshire, very late in the season (early January). Once you spot one of them, by the yellow stem or frilly cap, you suddenly see them everywhere around, often in big clumps. Then, you can walk for ages and not see any.

This is probably the best edible mushroom I’ve found: expensive, tasty, abundant once you find some, seemingly completely resistant to insects and bugs, and survives freezing temperatures without turning to mush. The smell is amazing, not mushroomy but lighter, buttery and still earthy. I’ve also tried all the main preservation methods on them with success: drying, pickling and storing under oil, and frying-then-freezing.

Chanterelle

I didn’t find many of these, just a patch in Kent, on mossy sloped ground at the edge of hardwood forest. They are even posher than Winter Chanterelles.

Ochre Brittlegill

No photo of this, just found one and tried it. Wild Food UK have a good video about identifying edible species from this group.

The Deceiver

It is almost irresponsible to put a photo of this because they can look so variable and resemble many other small brown mushrooms, including poisonous ones. Didn’t really taste of anything and not a great edible species, apart from that they can be found in big groups.

Wood Ear

These are all over the place it seems, on dead or dying trees of many types, and on logs. They don’t taste of much but are popular in a stir fry and soup. I don’t use them fresh, instead dry them out and then reconstitute them in rice vinegar and soy sauce, or some similar mixture. The texture is soft but crunchy and they take on flavours very well.

Wood Blewit

This particular photo might be a Sordid Blewit, but I think it isn’t. I found Wood Blewits in the woods, but also in pasture land quite far from trees, and under bushes in leaf litter. They are a type of mushroom that decays dead leaves or woodchip etc. An amazing aromatic smell, like frozen orange juice, and a very posh gourmet mushroom. I found anything except quite small ones to usually be attacked by flies, but that might depend on the local habitat. Some people are allergic to Blewits, and they have deadly poisonous purple lookalikes.

Field Blewit

Unlike the Wood Blewit, only the stem is purple/lilac, and only in young specimens. They also taste great and have a nice firm and dense texture when young. I found them in fields and also around trees — the ‘Wood/Field’ distinction for Blewits is not set in stone.

Meadow Waxcap

The Waxcap family are usually found in a particular type of grassland pasture called ‘Waxcap grassland’ because it is so strongly associated with these species, some of which are very rare. The Meadow Waxcap is quite plentiful where it exists, though, and is luckily also the best one to eat. It was nice to wander round a pasture finding lots of these, sometimes singly, sometimes in large rings, and growing in grassland they also needed very little cleaning. They continued surprisingly late into Winter, and I found a surprising resurgence of them on a mild spell after a heavy frost. The one in the photo above is actually frozen solid. They smell quite plain but slightly sweet, and preserve well in a variety of ways.

I was also surprised to find some not in meadow, but in dense moss in the edge of a forest. Waxcaps are thought to be associated with moss, so it makes sense.

Crimson Waxcap

One of the less common Waxcaps, totally beautiful with bright colours that change with age.

Snowy Waxcap

A medium-rare Waxcap, but with quite a few in the field I decided to sample one. Quite nice, similar to a Meadow Waxcap but smaller and tasting slightly like crab or lobster.

Velvet Shank

Quite a good one for Winter, because they not only survive freezing but continue growing afterwards. I found them on dying trees or stumps, often in damp woodland or near water, where the trees were covered in moss. The cultivated form (grown in the dark and a CO2-rich atmosphere) is the Enokitake mushroom you find in shops. Sometimes I would find them growing behind dead bark on a tree, where they would mimic they cultivated form. The natural form is very nice and sweet when young, but gets a bit slimy on top in the wet. They were nice pickled and also dried for putting in soup.

It has a deadly poisonous and very similar lookalike called the Funeral Bell, but you shouldn’t be using this post for important ID information anyway! I found them often in the same environment as Wood Ears, but if growing on the same tree as them, the Wood Ears seemed to win and produce more.

Oyster Mushroom

Grows on dead wood, either standing trees or fallen logs, and occurs throughout the year but fruits only sporadically, e.g. after a cold snap. These are very easy to cultivate so not quite as chic as Winter Chanterelles, but really nice to eat anyway and keep a firm texture when cooked. When too old they will be covered in fly eggs or maggots, and sadly if some in the crop are too old, even the younger ones can get flies.

I often found them in annoyingly small quantities or too old, but sometimes came across a big group at just the right time to be fresh. There are many different varieties with different colours. Whenever I found the Pale Oyster, it was a bit too old, whereas Blue/Grey Oysters were often just right. The best places to look seemed to be Oak trees in open spaces, rather than dense forests.

Blushing Wood Mushroom (or similar)

No picture and wasn’t sure, but an interesting Agaric family mushroom that stained red.

Hedgehog Mushroom

Called Pied De Mouton in France, taste great. The smell is floral and almost uplifting, but otherwise hard to describe. I found these in Yorkshire, and only slightly too late in the season, late December/early January. They are distinctive, because nothing else in the UK grows from the ground and has these spines in place of gills. I found a few in the same places as Winter Chanterelles, and then elsewhere in a strange bit of forest containing a mix of Christmas Trees, Birch, and grass.

Another excellent edible mushroom to find, because they are insect resistant, expensive and tend to come in locally-scattered groups: find one, see a few more, walk a few yards, more… . I hear they don’t dry that well but haven’t tried. Many of the ones I found were too old to pick, a bit floppy and would tend to be bitter tasting. When younger they are almost crispy, and excellent. Fortunately they return in the same place year to year, like many mushrooms, so I’ll be back.

Goblet Funnel Cap

These aren’t that amazing to eat, and some people are allergic, but I found them pretty good. I felt strangely fond toward them because on a very late-Winter foraging trip where everything else was too-old Hedgehogs or barely-surviving Winter Chanterelles, these were just coming through and in good condition. They were growing around decaying hardwood in a thick layer of needle/leaf litter.

Stinkhorn

Bizarre. Grows from an egg (pictured) of which the centre is technically edible but pointless to eat in my opinion. Then it grows into a sort of phallic quasi-Morel with disgusting green spore material on the end that the flies come and carry away. Found in Pine forest.

Selected others

— Turkey Tail and Birch Polypore. Some people make tea out of these, Birch Polypore tasted very bitter but I guess Turkey Tail was okay.

— Clouded Agaric. Disputed edibility and in any case causes reactions in a large number of people, so I didn’t bother trying it.

— Lilac Fibrecap. I just found one of these but it was interesting, because it is a deadly lookalike of the also-lilac Wood Blewit. I felt confident telling them apart by then, but could see the similarity.

— White Saddle. Not edible but cool looking.

— Olive Oysterling. Disputed edibility, looks like a smaller Oyster Mushroom and it is interesting to learn the differences between them.

— Angel Wings. Deadly poisonous but very pretty looking.

— Yellow Brain and normal Brain fungus. Both very strange.

— Parrot Waxcap. It’s worth looking up some pictures of these, they are all sorts of colours and the different hues seem to flow into each other as it ages.

— Butter Waxcap.

— Trooping Funnel. Apparently quite nice to eat but the ones I found were a bit old.

— Fool’s Funnel (possibly). Similar looking to the above but very poisonous.

— Common Inkcap.

— Puffball

— and more!

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