Sunday, 22 September 2013

Foraged mushrooms - deadly or delicious?

So I've been back out running. It's surprised me as much as you, believe me. 

After the Great South Run in 2010, I honestly thought I would never run again. I tried a few times, but no. I was completely all out of run.

Then, earlier in the summer, a thought came over me that it might be worth having another try, so I did, and what do you know, I've got my 'run' back. I've been taking it very slowly, but yesterday was a great day - I crossed the 5 mile threshold. I'm unlikely to ever run much further in one go - the 10 mile Great South was too far for someone like me, who, let's face it is built for comfort rather than speed or distance. If I'm honest, I knew it while I was training, but running with a group of friends, I kind of got carried along with it all. Anyway, that's beside the point The point of all this is that at the end of my very slow 5 miles yesterday morning, I came across some mushrooms.

Now the Husband and I have spent more than a little time collecting mushrooms in our life together. We've always been ultra cautious, and up until last year, the usual outcome of such foraging expeditions was that we chucked every single fungus we had collected into the bin, and put it down to experience. You see, mushrooms really is something you can't be too careful about. Get it wrong, and you're talking serious problems, if not actual death.

I had a close encounter with the possibility that wild mushrooms can kill you a few years ago. Until recently, I used to get my haircut by a friend who had a one chair salon in a very smart shed in her back garden. One day, during school holidays, I had no option but to take the kids with me. It was a nice day. I thought they could play in the garden. Nicky had just started cutting - my hair was wet and clipped up in the way that it is, when the kids came bursting in: "We've been eating mushrooms" they proudly exclaimed.

I established that they had been eating mushrooms that had grown up in my hairdresser's grass.

I was seized with a kind of paralysis. I was of course extremely cross that they had eaten mushrooms, and also that this was likely to interrupt a longed for hair appointment (I know, I know - but bear in mind that this was just after Blue had finished his chemo, and I was a lot angrier about EVERYTHING then). I was also very worried, but my anger took over and I sat back down in the chair and said to Nicky that she should carry on cutting my hair and I'd take the kids to the doctors afterwards. 

I sat there for about 3 minutes before exasperation, frustration and everything else consumed me, and I stood up, hair dripping, clipped up and a little bit cut, gown and all, and frogmarched the kids all 2 minutes down the hill to the doctors, where we spent a happy hour establishing that the mushrooms were not toxic and they would be fine. Fortunately, Nicky wasn't expecting her next client for a few more minutes, so I even had time to get back up the hill and finish off the haircut, so it all worked out fine in the end.

I suppose I had always thought we had impressed on the kids how important it was to check with an adult before eating something wild, and this made it clear to me that we hadn't been clear enough, and I suppose it's something that I'd like to pass on.

(Also, if you're in the Chester area, Nicky's just moved and is open for business up there. I'd thoroughly recommend her!)

Near misses aside, last year,  we seemed to cross some kind of mushroom identification rubicon - well the Husband did. Thanks  to the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook, a Field Guide to Mushrooms and a website called, last year, he bagged a fantastic haul of edible mushroms which made some very delicious soup. Just to stress how careful we are about this, he does use at least 2 books to identify his finds. It really is something not to be blase about - after all, I'd rather not suffer agonising kidney failure and death, and I'm sure you'd rather not too.

Anyway, the mushrooms I found looked and smelt like field mushrooms, so I took one home and the Husband thought I was probably right, so we went off with the kids and foraged away.

A basket or so later - probably about 1.5 kilos worth, mainly field mushrooms and a few puff balls, we decided to head back. It looks like it's going to be a bumper mushroom year, and there are certainly loads of promising fairy ring marks around the fields, so we decided there would probably more to gather over the next few days.

Just in case you're wondering, he then checked each mushroom individually. I'm not going to even start to give you advice here about how to check them - you need to consult the experts - but having put aside 500g worth for soup, we decided that the decent thing to do was mushrooms on toast for lunch.

Mushrooms on toast is such a simple and yet totally delicious meal, especially with beautifully fresh mushrooms - but if you can't forage for them, try and get them as fresh as possible from the shops. 

Heat some butter and oil in a pan - you want to get it good and hot so the mushrooms fry and don't boil in the juice they release. Try and resist the temptation to cook them all at once - again you want to make sure they fry. A crushed clove of garlic, a sprinkle of thyme leaves and some reasonably decent bread, toasted how you like it is all you need. Believe me, this is not the moment for some pappy sliced loaf.

Pile the mushrooms up on your chosen toast (butter it first if you're feeling extra decadent), grind over some salt and pepper, and consume. 

Enjoy - and then try not to spend the next few days worrying about whether you're going to die a horrible and painful death...

The thyme really brought out the flavours of the mushrooms, so I'm linking up to Cooking with Herbs hosted by Karen on Lavender and Lovage 


  1. When I was a kid my dad used to come home from his night shift via a field where there were often mushrooms. He would have fried egg, mushrooms and bacon for breakfast then go to bed for the day.

    The very idea terrifies me now, especially since our visit to the mushroom museum at Saumur where we discovered that the deadly poisonous ones look exactly the same as the edible ones !!

    1. Yeah there's something called a Destroying Angel, which is very similar to a field mushroom, but we just checked and checked.

      Had some delicious soup this lunchtime...

  2. Top that with a fried egg and I think that's my favourite breakfast in the whole world... You can never be too careful though right. I read somewhere that each autumn dozens of Italians die through eating the wrong mushrooms...

    1. I know - I always feel slightly nervous, but we are really careful.

  3. Love mushrooms on toast, especially with a bit of paprika and creme fraiche. Always wanted to do a mushroom foraging course/day, but it's another thing I've never got round to....though just looked some up, prompted by your post, so maybe this will be the year!

    Really glad you've got your run back Sally, and 5 miles is brilliant. I still jog (v v slowly) but haven't ever managed more than 3.

    1. Mmm paprika & creme fraiche sounds delicious - will try that next time. I'd like to send the Husband on a course (I'd rather trust hom than myself) but actually the books are very good - and so far anyway, no fatalities! My run was very very slow, Tracey!! I suspect the 3 years since the Great South, and the fact that I'm now over 40 - has all taken its toll. No more 8 minute miles for me, I fear!

  4. Love this post RJ, haven't got the confidence to forage mushrooms, the River Cottage book sounds good. The mushrooms on toast look absolutely divine!

  5. :-) thanks, Table. The probelm with running at the momentm is that I keep getting distracted by all things edible - mushrooms, blackberries... and of course, the sloes and the promise of sloe gin at Christmas...


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