Wild Mushroom Picking in Denmark and Oxford

During my recent trip to Denmark a friend and his father offered to take me mushroom picking. and I jumped at the opportunity. I’m a big fan of mushrooms in cooking, particularly the more prized varieties like morels, ceps, chanterelles, and of course truffles. Mushrooms like these add a lot to dishes, particularly in sauces, but usually come with a big price tag, and aren’t usually sold in supermarkets. So when we went foraging, I wasn’t expecting to find any truffles- just given the location we were in- but if I learnt to find some of the popular cooking mushrooms like chanterelles, I’d be pretty pleased.

Of course, one of the main things that makes foraging for mushrooms different from other kinds of foraging is the fact some of them are poisonous. Blackberries and lavender are very easy to forage. Even elderflower, for example, is fairly straightforward to recognise the smell of the flower and the shape of the leaves- and if you get the wrong thing, like cow parsley, it just tastes bad. But with mushrooms, something that looks slightly different- a yellow tinge on the stem, for example- can be the difference between edible and deadly poisonous. So this can make it difficult for beginners to start picking wild mushrooms with any confidence. One way to avoid this, as I was lucky enough to be able to do when in Denmark, is to go picking with people who already know what is safe and what isn’t.

But if you don’t have this luxury, there is still hope. I was told that you can pick a poisonous mushroom, take it home, identify it, and throw it in the bin, all safely (just don’t eat it). So if you get hold of a good field guide (I was recommended Roger Phillips ‘Mushrooms‘), you can pick with much more confidence. Similarly, if you can’t tell whether or not the mushroom you picked is edible, or can’t figure out the variety, just don’t eat it.

So how do you go about foraging for wild mushrooms? The most important thing to bear in mind is that mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees, that is that they help the trees, and the trees help them. So when you see a mushroom, it’s connected to some tree underground. Consequently, if you figure out which kind of trees to look for, and what kind of environment to look for, that’s the first part. Big, old trees are better, and woodlands, like forests, provide good growing environments. Mushrooms will grow in the same place year to year, so if you find a good crop in one place, remember where it is for next year. Most mushrooms are in season during Autumn and early winter, but a few, like morels, come out in the spring, or other times of the year. In picking the mushroom- pick the whole stem out of the ground- you are spreading the spores around, so helping the mushroom reproduce. Perhaps this is why they have evolved to be so tasty- being picked, then presumably eaten, helps them to reproduce.

In Denmark we drove out a little way into the countryside, and just pulled up at the side of the road running through a forest- clearly somewhere my guides had been before. We had to have a good look around to find the mushrooms, of which I would say around 1/3 were edible. Apparently, due to the weather, 2012 has been a terrible year for mushrooms, as it has for apples and other fruits. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t find the chanterelles and ‘horn of plenty’ that we were looking for. However, after a trip to a local park, we had a handful of mushrooms to bring back (see picture at top), probably enough for a sauce, but not enough to dry any to keep for later use.

Looking for mushrooms in the UK has yielded less luck. During a few trips around local parks in Oxford, notably University Parks, I’ve barely seen any mushrooms, let alone edible ones. When I was visiting my brother and his wife in Bournemouth recently, we took a trip into the New Forest to see what we could find. Here we found many mushrooms (including some really poisonous ones). We saw loads of a variety called ‘puffballs’, but as with Oxford, nothing that could be identified as edible. Perhaps the areas we looked had already been foraged over.

But recently, just on a walk around my local estate, we found some ‘shaggy inkcaps’ (also named lawyer’s wigs, picture above left). The field guide described them highly common, and with their unique shape, we felt confident we had got the identity correct- it really couldn’t be anything else. What’s more, the book had the magic word ‘edible’, and even said they were “good” to eat. So eat them we did- steak, wedges, and fried mushrooms- and indeed they were good, if the texture was a little wanting. But, as usual with foraging, don’t rely on finding your dinner out there, and you might not even find anything. You’ll always get a nice walk in the woods, if nothing else, so give it a go.

Simple wild mushroom sauce

Ingredients:
30g dried mushrooms
100ml dry sherry or white vermouth
300ml double cream

Recipe:
1. Soak the mushrooms. Soak the mushrooms in 250ml water for 30 minutes. Keep the water you are soaking the mushrooms in, but strain it through a muslin to get rid of dirt.
2. Make the sauce. Add the sherry and mushrooms to the water. Bring to the boil, add the double cream, then reduce down to the consistency required.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Porcini and Scallop Tartlets « oxfood

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