Just call us the geeky 'shroom hunters. Anyone who follows me on social media will know we love hunting for wild mushrooms. I'm even getting tagged by people on Facebook asking if we can help ID people's fungi finds.
We're getting pretty good at identifying them now - and the eagle-eyed kids even manage to seek out the tiniest of mushrooms.
I can not stress enough though - NEVER pick any unless you are sure they are safe - some mushrooms look very similar to each other. We have foraged and eaten many types and so far we have been OK, but if there are any we are even slightly unsure of then we leave them well alone. There is an app called Myco Pro which you can get for your smart phone - it is great for helping to ID mushrooms when you're out and about. There's also a great little book called Food for Free that can be picked up online.
Many look very similar so don't be fooled. In general brightly coloured ones are usually poisonous. Please also leave some behind, take a couple if you are planning to cook them but leave some for the forest so they can spore.
Here are a few that we've discovered:
The Fly Agaric
The fly agaric is a poisonous mushroom and infamous for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. Reports of human deaths resulting from its ingestion are rare but basically leave well alone and admire its awesomeness. These pretty toadstools are famous in films such as Alice and Wonderland and I always love it when we find them.
A first for me. These teeny blue fungi were spotted whilst out walking locally. They are called Chlorociboria and they stain the wood a lovely blue/green colour. You'll find them growing on decayed wood so keep your eyes peeled.
Scarlet Elf Cups
These bright red shrooms could easily be mistaken for discarded mini baby bell wrappers. They have a slightly rubbery texture and it was a surprise to find these scattered over a large area of the woodland floor. Scarlet Elf Cups are one of a handful of mushrooms to be found at the coldest time of year and they are edible. We foraged some back in February and dried them on the window sill - they actually make a 'puffing' sound when they release their spores.
The Boletus edulis, also known as the Cep, Porcini or Penny-bun Bolete, is a delicious edible wild mushroom. We were lucky enough to find lots of these beauties along the edge of a woodland walk this summer.
I have loved seeing these pretty purple mushrooms pop up in the woods. Laccaria amethystina the Amethyst Deceiver is edible, although the stems are tough so only the caps are worth collecting. When they grow among moss, the bright violet caps stand out but more often you'll find them growing in damp leaf litter and they go unnoticed.
Amongst the boletes in this basket are the golden chanterelles. You may have heard them talking about these on Master Chef? They are also known as girroles and are very popular with chefs. They are fairly small mushrooms and are funnel shaped and a bright yellow colour. A very tasty find.
Polyporus squamosus, also known as Dryad's Saddle, grows in overlapping clusters and tiers on broad-leaved trees (a dryad is a mythical wood-nymph). We have found a few of these huge, impressive looking fungi, when growing on the trunks of trees this polypore forms brackets or steps that do look like saddles. The outer edges are edible but I have to say I'm not a fan. Here is a huge one we found on a fallen tree.
A highly unusual find for us the Octopus Stinkhorn or Devil's Fingers fungus. Found in the woods at a festival in Sussex. It's native to Australia and New Zealand so quite a rare find.Most fungi sprout from the earth, but the octopus stinkhorn emerges from an egg, usually around decaying wood chips, old stumps or in leaf litter. Apparently it is edible when in the egg stage but I think the foul stench would put anybody off.
Had to share the above - a perfect Fly Agaric next to a deer skull - straight outta a creepy fairy tale.
An inedible mushroom but very cute you'll find Suplhur Tufts from April through to the first heavy frosts. They fruit on fallen trees and decaying stumps and can usually be seen in large clusters.
Auricularia auricula-judae, the Jelly Ear or wood ear fungus, is mainly seen in winter and spring. It grows on dead elder trees and on fallen branches and this is a very common find for us. The outer surface of the is tan-brown with a purple tinge and covered in a fine greyish velvety down. These are edible when cooked and I've eaten them a few times.
A very cool find by moi one afternoon. Initially I thought it was something that had been thrown on the ground. It was at the base of a tree and partially covered by leaves - it looked like a natural sponge. Sparassis crispa also known as brain fungus or cauliflower fungus is edible and huge. This one was bigger than my head. These do need a very good wash before cooking as there will probably be a few bugs crawling about inside but I must say it was very tasty in a stir fry.
Possibly the tastiest find yet, the Bay Bolete or Imleria badia is just like the cep. It is common in spruce and pine forests and occasionally appears also under oak, beech and chestnut trees.
Chicken of the woods
The chicken of the woods is an impressive large orange/yellow colour polypore. They grow on tree trunks in clusters known as brackets and are a delicacy. They have the texture of chicken making them a great substitute for meat.
These are just a handful of fungus that we have spotted and I'm still on the hunt for the elusive morrel.
I hope our little guide has helped answer some questions?