Every year they rise like the living dead, moist and purple, white and delicate, brown and stout. They appear overnight, swelling through damp undergrowth. Culinarily, they are grouped with vegetables, but they are closer in structure to animals than to plants. They add flavour and texture to foods from many different cuisines, and can be found in your garden, in forests, in fields, for free... Mushrooms.
As soon as autumn started to colour the leaves we would watch people returning from their walks in Fontainebleau Forest with baskets full of fungus, an afternoon stroll turned into a treasure hunt. We spent some time admiring and photographing different mushrooms, and eventually bought a mushroom guide; this was probably more off-putting initially, with a myriad of side-effects like “excess salivation and liver failure”, “heart fibrillation” and “death”.
Last year we discovered that a friend that we were vanning with, Fabi, had spent time picking and eating mushrooms in Sweden. We headed out on a sunny afternoon, wandering around the back of the Gorges de Franchard and picked a paper bag full of Boletus species, predominantly bay boletes. We removed the slimy pores and chopped them up, frying them with butter, garlic and pepper and eating them on toast. It was excellent, and we didn't experience any death or liver failure.
Above: some mushrooms species that we have found during our wanderings (some are non-edible/poisonous). The bottom left photo shows a beautiful (and probably inedible) Boletus species that we found uprooted - it's better to check the mushroom and then cut it at the base of the stalk..
Since then we have become keen amateur mushroom foragers, proceeding with caution but happy to experiment and to learn from other people. We started slowly and now there are a handful of species that we are confident to pick, a few more that we are reading up on, and many non-edible species that we have been trying to identify. It gives another dimension to woodland walks, and an interesting supplementation to our diet. Unfortunately this year has been incredibly dry, which isn't conducive to a good mushroom growing season, but we are hoping for a late bounty if it ever rains again.
Paper bag or basket – mushrooms like to 'breathe'
A wandering eye
Knowledge! (or a knowledgeable guidebook)
Important Information for Mushroom Hunting:
Recipe Ideas for Foraged Mushrooms
Fried mushrooms - this is the simplest way to eat the mushrooms, and quite versatile as it goes well on bread, pasta, gnocchi, rice... We chop them and fry them in plenty of olive oil or butter, with black pepper, garlic, a little salt, perhaps some chilli and parsley or spinach.
Dried - slice finely and leave on paper somewhere fairly dry, the dashboard of a van works well or near a radiator. Turn them regularly and ensure that they are totally dry before storing them for future use in any dish that needs a savoury flavour kick.
Risotto - follow a good mushroom risotto recipe, swapping your foraged gains for the shop-bought mushrooms.
A note - this article is not intended as any form of identification or guide. The photos show a mixture of edible and non-edible species chosen because they look pretty, not as a reference!