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Monday, May 23, 2016

Foraging fungi

Autumn's the time for foraging for fungi (perhaps there's a better term than, 'foraging'; it sounds like someone ratting through the odds and ends in the bottom of a drawer, looking for a screwdriver or a bottle opener, but it starts with 'f' the way fungi does, so it has some appeal). The cool and moist weather that's typical of autumn is favoured by fungi and brings their fruiting bodies; the bits we like to eat, to the surface where they display their fungal forms for any fungi-favourers to find. Most wild-mushroom lovers know the field mushroom best and there are many who only know the creamy white buttons that dot pastures on farms across the country, little suspecting that there are other, equally yummy edible, wild mushrooms waiting to be picked. Button or field mushrooms are easily recognised and not readily confused with any other fungi. That makes them safe in the minds of New Zealanders not well versed in hunting wild mushrooms, as people from Europe and America often are. We are new to the practice of frying up fungi that look different and treat new types of mushrooms with great skepticism and caution. Death by toadstool is a deeply-help fear by people in this new land of ours, and learning about and eating novel fungi is a slow process but there are easily identified, great tasting mushrooms popping up this season in a town, village or park near you and once you're confident that what you've found is what you've heard about, you'll be able to join the swelling ranks of mushroom eaters who know more than just the button. Puffballs. They're poisoness, aren't they? Our parents probably encouraged us to think so and certainly wouldn't have urged us to eat any, but the biggest and most visible of the puffballs is a lovely and easily identified treat for the local mushroom fan. I see them growing in pasture, often nearby to sources of nutrients, such a silage stacks. They are large and white, clean and firm. Taking one home, slicing it into steaks and frying those in butter is an easy and safe way to break out of the mono-mushroom habit you may have inherited from your parents. Fried puffball is very tasty however you prepare it. Another relatively common grass-grown mushroom that tastes great is the Lawyer's Wig, or Ink Cap mushroom that pops up in the lawns and grass verges of our towns. These shaggy mushrooms last a short time only and have to be cooked as soon as possible to avoid losing them to a puddle of ink, which is what they become if left lying about too long. They are safe to eat and easy to recognise once you've seen them in a book or in real life. If you've the desire to try some of these new mushrooms, talk to someone who already has and go out foraging with them, if they're willing to reveal their special spots to you; mushrooms of these sort tend to appear in the same sites each autumn and keen collecters might want to keep those secret.  

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