Wednesday, November 4, 2009


As I was making a stuffing for two very large mushrooms this mornings, my mind strayed back to Shirley Conran's words 'life's too short to stuff a mushroom' and thought well I'm glad that occasionally we find the time to stuff one! Philosphical thinking when we prepare food is probably a good excuse, but the end results are always rather delicious.... this morning, a bread mix I found at Sainsbury, containing parmesan cheese and dried tomatoes makes tasty rolls, whilst homemade fish cakes of salmon and spring onions will go nicely with the mushrooms...
But after finding mushrooms on sunday and not being allowed to pick them I turned to Susan Harley's Food in England for some advice on English mushrooms.
Well she loved her mushrooms too and has written a whole chapter on the subject.., names to conjure with.....

Common field mushroom (Psalliota campestris) is dainty pick and white when young turning brown, then almost black, as it grows old.. You will find them in pastures, normally where cattle graze. They may be anything from 4 to 24 inches across!

Horse mushroom (Psalliota Arvenis) is a clumsy version of the field mushroom. The top is thicker and the stem lumpy, and the colour of the gills less pink. The smell is that of field mushroom. Note if a horse mushroom stains yellow when cut or bruised(not a faint tinge but a definite bright yellow -as if dabbed with mustard or egg yolk -discard it as it may be be Psalliota xanthoderma which, though not deadly, has been known to cause illness
It is the solitary dead white fungus that should be disregarded with suspicion. It is the death Cap (Amanita phalloides) which is most dangerous.

Fairy Ring (Marasmius oreades), are best for drying, they are not always true to their habit of growing in rings, especially where lea has been broken. But the delicate 'fairy ring mushroom' is unmistakable. They are seldom more than 2 inches across, and carried comparitvely high on slender stems. The gills are deep and very regular, one long one short, like the minute marks around a clock. The top is buff, and the gills are very much paler, the slender stems are stringy and tough so cut them off.

The puff-balls (Lycoperdon); The really giant one (lycoperdon giganteum) can be as big as a football, both large and small puffballs taste exactly the same. Their texture - solid white, like smooth, white cream cheese, and the outer covering is fine as white kid. .....

Cooking; Smallest puff balls, walnut size, are best dipped in batter and fried like rissoles. Drain and serve as a pebble beach around a pool of green spinach. Medium sized, are rolled in flour, pepper and salt, then drop into an earthen ware pan with barely enough milk to cover, and simmer to cook. Thicken sauce after cooking, pour back over the puff-balls and garnish with scarlet barberries and green parsley.
Giant puff-balls are sliced, and dipped in egg and milk and then fine dry breadcrumbs. Fried in hot bacon-fat, drain on kitchen paper, pepper and salt and serve piping hot, sprinkled with cider or vinegar..

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius); One of the prettiest of fungi. You find them, suddenly, in the autumn woods, sometimes clustered so close that they look like a torn golden shawl, dropped down amongst the dead leaves and sticks. They are all the same clear, egg-yolk yellow, the stem coming up straight, and springing and spreading stiff as a tiny fountain spurting gold. The top surface is damp and glossy yellow; the underside crinkly matt yellow; and they smell faintly of apricots.

She goes on to list more edible fungi and her writing is a marvellous description of the rich harvest of mushrooms in general before the advent of modern farming techniques. Though I am nervous about picking and cooking mushrooms and perhaps a course is called for, it is wonderful to think how the countryside furnished such a rich culinary diet, and though the warning nowadays is all about the deadly fungi, (and if I have time will give her description of the Death Cap,) the funny little tree drying mushrooms before a fire is evocative of a self-sufficiency that has become extinct in this country.

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