I had been interested in collecting and eating wild fungi for many years and eventually, in 1998, I took part in a weekend course in the New Forest, run by a controversial German woman, Mrs Tee, which gave me a taste for the hunt. Since moving to France, I was lucky that there was a retired pharmacist in my walking group who was pleased to share my interest and impart his knowledge, and would point out edible mushrooms and collect them for me. I have collected trompettes de la mort Craterellus cornucopioides, pieds de mouton Hydnum repandum, winter chanterelles Craterellus tubaeformis and once when out with the group we found several kilos of the highly prized morels Morchella. This year, after years of only finding one or two ceps boletus, I have been very successful and last week, gathered a basketful, some of which I ate, sliced, fried in butter with garlic, parsley and black pepper, on buttered toast, I am salivating now just thinking about them. The rest were sliced and dried for future use in risottos and stews.
I am very careful to only collect mushrooms which I know, so it’s probably one species at a time, depending on the season, a mushroom which is different will stick out like a sore thumb. However, at the moment, along with ceps, there are also bright orange chanterelles or girolles, Cantharellus cibarius, as the French prefer to call them and which can be seen for sale in the local markets, but when collecting them yourself, it is imperative that you are not fooled by the false chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca and unless you are absolutely sure, please do take them to the pharmacist for identification.
I have a good collection of books about mushrooms, but most of which are rather heavy for lugging about in the woods as well as a knife, basket and stick. You can download an app for your phone or iPad. The excellent one by wild food expert, Roger Phillips, has 1500 mushrooms and costs £2.49.
In France, there have been many poisonings by mushrooms this summer, due to the wet weather which has brought the harvest forward while holidaymakers were still around, who are not so familiar with types of mushrooms. The Midi-Pyrenees is particularly badly affected.
The Bolet Satan (Boletus satanas) is the main cause of poisoning, because it is incorrectly thought that all boletes are edible, but when compared with other boletes, the Bolet Satan is distinctly red.
To avoid poisoning, the poison control center in Toulouse has set up a network to identify mushrooms and you can send photos of your mushrooms to email@example.com or you can take your mushrooms to the local pharmacy.
However, in the case of poisoning, call the Poison Control Center – 05 61 77 74 47 or 15, Note the time of the meal, keep any mushrooms which have not been consumed, and drink salt water.
Only pick mushrooms you are completely sure of, some highly toxic poisonous mushrooms resemble edible species;
Identification: when in doubt about the identification of any of the harvested mushrooms, do not consume the harvest before having it checked by an expert on the subject.
DO if you go out on your own, please make sure that someone knows where you will be and what time you expect to be back.
DO only pick specimens in good condition.
DO keep mushrooms separated by species. A poisonous fungus can infect others;
DO cut off the mushrooms from the base, and put them into a basket.
DO NOT pull mushrooms out of the ground
DO NOT keep them in a plastic bag, which accelerates decay.
DO wash your hands thoroughly after harvesting and before any food preparation.
DO keep the mushrooms in good condition in the refrigerator, and eat within two days at most, after picking;
DO NOT pick near polluted sites (roadsides, industrial areas, landfills) as fungi absorbs pollutants.
DO NOT gorge on mushrooms, cook well and DO NOT eat raw;
DO NOT encourage young children to collect mushrooms. They can find and point them out to you, but must not touch them.