The wonderful northern autumn equinox, when daylight hours equal those of night, always brings a tingle of anticipation. This is when the mycelia of the little rotters buried in the soil of woods and meadows begin their fruiting season. As with oaks dropping their fruity acorns in the fall (literally) so the fungal hyphae in the leaf-mulch start the upward thrust of their own special fruits. Fungi cover an enormous range of types, shapes, colours and importantly toxicology. The ones that are good to eat can be easily found by the practised eye, plus the right weather and just a touch of luck or by gaining better odds with a store of habitat and species knowledge. Even the most experienced foragers will always tell you of their child-like thrill in seeing a flush of their favourite fungi resplendent amidst verdant moss or poking through the leaves. The anticipation of the hunt and the thrill of success are addictive. However, it is always important to stay calm and measured, with each specimen for the pot requiring individual examination and confirmation. People have mistaken poisonous species with fatal results or permanently lost kidney or liver functions. Out there is a pharmacological wonderland but nobody wants to go down the rabbit hole and never come back. Take extreme care and NEVER EVER eat something that you are not 100% certain is what you think it is. I taught myself by learning the 'bad for people' species like Death Caps as well as the 'good to eat' ones like Penny Buns (ceps) and I never venture out without a really solid field guide to aid my identification. I take the view that I am always learning.
The application of these skills takes place regularly through the fungal year and peaks in the autumn when I cook for 40 or so sailors in their lovely Thames-side clubhouse. This wild food dinner menu is derived or steered from seasonal plenty (or scarcity) and always tries to stretch the ingenuity of ingredient selection and cooking methods. This year has been bone dry until the week before the event so the usual crop of ceps, chanterelles and black trumpets has lain dumbstruck with heatstroke beneath the soil with only a few pink gilled field mushrooms or perky champignon poking through the fairy rings in the grassland meadows. However, it's been a good year for crab apples, hawthorn berries, late blackberries, wild plums, bullace and, stored in the freezer from the spring equinox, hop-shoots, nettles and three-cornered leek. All in all enough to forment a feast. Some of these species and recipes are visible in my book EAT WILD. Bon appetit.