Mushroomed out

The bad news is the pumpkin & chocolate brownies are no more – they’ve all been scoffed by DJ (my other half) or yours truly, I am ashamed to say. But they’ve gone to a good home. I am tempted to make some more but that would probably be a failure to comply with the strict rules of the Frugal Diet. The good news is that I got lots of exercise over the weekend attending two wild food/fungus forays in different parts of Essex.

When DJ, who is a mushroom freak and studied them at university, suggested a fungus foray I instinctively reached for the athlete’s foot spray, but thankfully it didn’t involve sniffing DJ’s smelly old trainers. Instead we were ranging about the great outdoors looking for mushrooms and having them identified by experts. Slightly overeager, we went on one on Saturday morning in Mill Meadows in Billericay for a couple of hours with a local ranger, and then a day-long course at Assington Mill on Sunday near Colchester. The mill, which is currently being restored by owners Anne Holden and Bob Cowlin, runs a range of courses on things that might interest those keen on becoming self sufficient – bee keeping, hen keeping, straw bale making, dyeing, basketry, you name it.

This time of year is ideal for fungi – although apparently this autumn hasn’t been great because it’s been so dry. Fungi love moisture. Hunting them is a pretty difficult task especially if – like myself – you have no idea what you’re doing or what any of the mushrooms are. But at Assington Mill, Ian Rose, a fungi expert, was on hand to identify our specimens. Wandering through the woods we found wood blewitts, parasol mushrooms, honey fungus and a charcoal burner mushroom, which after Ian had carefully identified we took home with us to eat. Unfortunately there are hundreds of poisonous fungi out there – many of which can be mistaken for edible fungi, so you really need to know what you are doing.

In the afternoon, after a delicious dinner of rabbit casserole, we watched a cookery demonstration of how to use the wild mushrooms, walnuts and horseradish in various dishes, followed by a…er…demonstration of…how to skin a rabbit. I sat next to a vegetarian throughout it, but I was definitely greener in the face than she was. The bunny lay there on the table looking at me with its beady eyes while I tried not to think of my next door neighbour’s daughter’s pet rabbit, fluffy. At one point I felt sure I’d have to go out and be sick. Especially as I had to sit through it twice as a volunteer had a go at skinning a second one. DJ wanted to take some of the rabbit meat home but thought better of it when he saw the look on my face.

HEALTH WARNING!!!  If you decide to go hunting for fungi or wild food make ABSOLUTELY SURE you know exactly what you’re eating and get an expert to help identify your specimens before you eat them as there are many poisonous fungi out there. Some are deadly and have no antidote. The safest thing to do is go on a properly organised foray with an expert. A useful book is Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe
by Roger Phillips

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