Last night I slept out under the sky. Thankfully it didn’t rain. It was glorious.
My friend Jethro has access to 40 acres of woodland. I drove down to spend time with him. By the time I arrived he had already foraged loads of Hedgehog Mushrooms, Chanterelles, Bay Boletes and Tawny Grisettes.
A few years ago I started trying to make sense of mushroom identification. I wandered around the grounds of Ripley castle clutching a book and trying to positively identify everything I could see. I found loads of stuff that could kill you. Very little you could eat. I got discouraged and put the whole thing on the back burner. I love the idea of finding my own tasty food on the ground, but the consequences of not getting it right can involve your liver exploding. On balance I think I need my liver. So it was with some trepidation that I partook of the mushroom breakfast, and then only after looking at each one myself and checking against Jethro’s field book. Particularly the Tawny Grisettes, as they are Amanita which, as a genus, want us dead in horrible ways. Death Cap and Destroying Angel are both Amanita and they just don’t like us. Never invite them to dinner parties. Cook a sliver of them into your sauce and you’ll likely take out a guest, possibly all of them. After careful inspection of his trophies I was satisfied. And I’m glad because it was a brilliant breakfast. The breakfast of champignons.
The major constituent was Hedgehog Mushroom, which is the ultimate breakfast fungus. The Chinese, I have read, conducted a test on mice with them. They fed some mice with powdered Hedgehog Mushrooms and some other mice with normal mouse type food. Then they dropped them all in a tank of water and timed how long it took for each of them to drown. Turns out Hedgehog Mushroom fed mice drown much slower. Which is conclusive proof that the majority of scientists are psychopaths.
After breakfast we went foraging and Jethro taught me loads. I’ve now got a better handle on lots of toadstool species, and there are two or three edibles – like hedgehog – that I would be able to get right every time. With the others, I still wouldn’t feel very comfortable looking for them on my own and then eating the findings. Death is a high price for a free breakfast. But it’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours, and an excuse for a walk in the woods.
When we were walking we found some more Hedgehogs. I carried them in my hat. On my way home I stopped in Crowborough where my 2 year old godson lives. Trusting my recognition utterly, I offered them to his parents and we had a lovely pasta with them in the sauce.
My first real contemplation of mortality as a child, long before all the shit went down, was Babar the Elephant’s dad:
For some reason that freaked me out more than his mum being shot by hunters. I think it was the speed of it. “Yum yum tasty mushroom eek I’m green.” It looks like a Fly Agaric, the one that killed Babar’s dad and scared me with a first thought of death. If you boil them twice and throw away the water, or dry them, then the poison is gone. But the idea of instant death from a mushroom, coupled with the fact that there were puffballs in abundance near my childhood home, with people saying they were good eating. I think it explains why I’m fascinated. It’s just an area that requires certainty and the stakes are high. I’m happy to improvise but not in that context. If I lived in the countryside I’d have my patches marked out. My walks. As it is I know where there’s a puffball mycology near me in Chelsea but the last few years some fucker has always beaten me to it. Perhaps I should live in the country. Perhaps I’d be poisoned if I did…