"The forest floor was covered in penny buns – at Emery Down, you know." In the dementia she suffered in her last year of life my mother recalled over and again her childhood delight in searching for fungi in the New Forest, a delight that she passed on to me.
A couple of years ago I bought several hectares of acacia and pine, oak and chestnut – the latter pair make for woodland that in France is called cepeux. It abounds in cepes or penny buns, boletus edulis, porcini, steinpilzen. Even when there is no fungus to be found I am happy to spend hours wandering through the chest-high ferns and knee-high leaf-meal. Boughs groan under the weight of invisible loads, leaves boil in the wind, woodpeckers beat their mad tattoo. The smell of spores is beguilingly sexual. The colours – mustard, ochre, gamboge, ruby, mole, parchment – are a leaf-peeper's dream. Wasps expire in horizontally laid webs. And when I do find penny buns, I am beset with pride, relief, exhilaration, gastronomic anticipation – and filial gratitude.
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