Consuming issues: A delicious (or deadly) feast from the woods
Saturday 16 October 2010
If I had picked the mushrooms in my garden a fortnight ago, you would not be readingthis column, either because they were delicious risotto-ed or fried with butter and garlic; or because I would be dead. I exaggerate: apparently you can eat Paxillus involutus (brown roll rims) time and again for years and then, one year, you die of renal failure.
It made me wonder whether other people have been foraging mushrooms and ending up in hospital; they have been.
We have 5,000 varieties of mushroom in the UK, of which about 90 per cent are harmless. About 40 are gastronomic stars, among them ceps, chanterelles and morelles. Understandably, celebrity chefs have been urging the British to make the most of nature's free larder.
Enjoying both the outdoors and a bargain, the prospect of strolling through woods, basket in hand, accumulating free food appeals to me. The only problem is that I don't have a clue which mushrooms are edible and which are not. A cursory investigation reveals the highly toxic fly agaric to be an almost comically evil-looking red toadstool, but other horrors such as death cap (Amanita phalloides) and destroying angel (Amanita virosa) look just like ... mushrooms.
Thanks to the combination of chefly advice and fungi's abundance this year, foodies have been descending on Epping Forest near London to root out bargains. Forest rangers are picking them up (the foragers, that is) because there, like many woods, you need a permit to pick mushrooms. Between 100 and 150 mushroom-pickers were stopped in a single weekend. Ranger Nick Baker said: "They pick poisonous mushrooms, edible mushrooms and mushrooms that they don't know what they are. We had somebody who collapsed and we had to call an ambulance."
The continentals have always picked mushrooms; they know which is which. By contrast we Brits are "fungi-phobic". Perhaps this isn't surprising given that we industrialised first and live a mostly urbanised existence in a small island. The UK has 11 per cent forest cover compared with France (28 per cent), Italy (33 per cent) and Spain (35 per cent). In France, pharmacists are trained to identify certain species. Boots don't offer this service; perhaps they should.
Anyway, aside from a few enlightened individuals here who know their culinary delicacies, most of us are ignorant. Which is why people have been tumbling into accident and emergency wards clutching their tummies: during 2008 and 2009 the National Poisons Information Service received 147 and 123 inquiries respectively about mushroom poisoning. By last month the number for this year had jumped to 209.
Very occasionally, people die, such as Amphon Tuckey, who ate death caps gathered by her niece at Ventnor Botanic Gardens in the Isle of Wight two years ago. Also two years ago Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, fell badly ill after he, his wife and his brother- and sister-in-law picked webcaps (Cortinarius speciosissimus.) The author had correctly picked edible fungi many times before.
I only "identified" the mushrooms in my garden from pictures taken by a photographer who wanders through woods in Sussex; thank you Matthew Hutchings of mushrooms.org.uk. These brown roll rims looked normal, and indeed were once commonly eaten. The Wikipedia entry for Paxillus involutus says: "Questions were first raised about its toxicity after an German mycologist, Dr Julius Schäffer, died after eating it in October 1944."
I like to think he had many happy mushroom meals.
Compare with the Independent: See how much you could save by switching credit cards. Compare now
Solar on Schools project offers green investors 'tangible, ethical assets'
easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou aims to make buying a home easier
Pensions: £600,000 needed for decent retirement pot
Life expectancy calculator will allow people to plan ahead but needs to be handled carefully
How to start your own internet business
- 1 Easter egg hunt horror as mother finds dead body under deck of house
- 2 'Natural' energy drink banned for containing erectile dysfunction drug
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Loch Ness Monster found on Apple Maps?
- 5 How We Met: Alison Moyet & Emma Kennedy: 'I knew we'd be friends because she was happy to make a prat of herself'
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
iJobs Money & Business
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£221.25 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a well established Inter...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Client Relationship Manager - SQL...
£35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Take your chance to join the...
Day In a Page
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square
A charming four-bedroom house overlooking Burleigh Square Park, close to Thorpe Bay
A three-bedroom farmhouse with a large inglenook fireplace and exposed beams
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds