Tag Archives: foraging

British Fungi Foraging and the Internet: Teething Pains of a New Culture

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


cover_cropFirstly for anybody who doesn’t already know, my new book (Edible Mushrooms – A forager’s guide to the wild fungi of Britain, Ireland and Europe) came out last Thursday (see link at top of page). The customer reviews have already started rolling in on Amazon , if you’d like to know what some of the early buyers think of it. I’d like to thank everybody at Green Books for their hard work in the production of this book. I’m still selling signed copies for £20 (the RRP) including P&P, so email me if you’d like one.

This post is mainly about things I’ve encountered while promoting the book on the internet, some of which are rather worrying. I’m not a big fan of Facebook – I’m a bit old school and prefer forums, especially because of the ability to search for historical posts and follow complex discussions. But in order to get the word out about the book, I joined a number of facebook groups related to fungi and foraging. I am very familiar with the conflict between conservationists/mycologists and foragers that has sprung up in the wake of the pro-foraging cultural change we’ve seen in Britain in recent years. I’ve spent the last five years trying to find a balanced view in the middle of it, and as a result I’ve ended up making both friends and enemies on both sides. That dispute is far from being resolved, with the recent “ban” on personal picking in the New Forest being an example of what some people in mycology and conservation want to achieve of a wider scale: the prohibition of fungi foraging. In that case the “ban” turned out to be toothless, because it is legally unenforceable, but it was a statement of intent that must not be ignored.

What I was less aware of is the level of conflict and argument that exists within the foraging world, especially on the internet. This is also partly the result of the rapidly changing culture – not long ago there simply wasn’t any foraging community in the UK – but it is also partly directly the result of the existence of the internet, which would have been a game-changer anyway, even if the British had historically foraged for fungi.

The disputes I am talking about can be broken down into four main categories.

(1) Arguments about identification and use of hallucinogenic varieties

This of least interest in the context of this blog post, apart from where it co-incides with (4) below – people picking stuff that they are hoping might be hallucinogenic species, then asking people online to identify them later. The arguments regarding the legality and ethics of the use of hallucinogenic fungi are beyond the scope of this post.

(2) Glorification of overpicking

Some people seem to think the goal of fungi foraging is to pick as much as possible of prized edible species, and then post a picture online of their “haul”. This is routinely followed by arguments about why they picked so much. The response from the picker is inevitably “There were tons; I left loads” – something which, conveniently, nobody else can verify, and which might well be true in a few cases but probably isn’t in most. Why would I say that? Because for these people, the main purpose of going foraging has ceased to be finding food and become a competitive sport. It is all about the photo at the end, of their massive “haul”, and the bigger the better. The goal has become to have taken the largest amount and post the most impressive picture, in the hope of gain kudos from other foragers. This behaviour leads to a culture where over-picking in encouraged. Even in the cases where it is actually true that loads were left, the very fact that these pictures are being posted, and the pickers congratulated, just encourages other people to go out and pick as much as possible. It incentivises picking everything, just like commercial foraging does. And perhaps more importantly, it hands ammunition to those people who want to see foraging banned. I even saw one instance of a professional foraging teacher asking what was wrong with selling any excess. The answer is that unless the landowner’s permission was sought for commercial collection, and granted, selling it would be illegal.

This is an appeal to people in the online foraging community to stop doing this. Stop turning fungi foraging into a competitive sport – stop posing with pictures of your massive “haul”, stop boasting about how many kilos of bay boletes you picked and stop encouraging other people to behave in this way. These are the people who are going to get fungi foraging banned. And I also ask other people in the foraging community – the ones who don’t do this – to condemn it whereever and whenever you see it.

(3) People confidently identifying other’s people fungi, incorrectly

This one is also about earning kudos in the online foraging community. Lots of people want to play fungi expert, it seems. In this environment, being able to identify the fungi in other people’s photos earns you respect. Unfortunately, some people either over-estimate their abilities or are knowingly “winging it”. They don’t just say “I think that might be X.” They say “X!”, giving the impression to the person who posted the photo that somebody who knows what they are doing has been able to provide a firm identification of a fungus. The potential consequences of this sort of behaviour are all too obvious – it hinders people’s learning process and may well lead to people getting poisoned.

Please do not pretend you are certain what something is unless you really are certain. Sometimes, of course, you can be certain but still be wrong, in which case be prepared to be corrected without getting upset. Many of the people whose misidentifications get pointed out by other people take it rather badly, leading to flame wars. I came across one lady last week who had incorrectly identified a Slender Parasol (Macrolepiota mastoidea) for a true Parasol (M. procera). When I pointed out her mistake and asked her to be more careful in the future for the reasons given above, she took it very personally and spent most of the rest of that evening demanding to know what my qualifications are, refusing to accept that she’d identified the fungus wrongly and telling me that she’d been taught how to forage by her Sicilian family, that her boyfriend owned a 250 acre farm in Somerset and that her husband (apparently she had both) “had a PhD in biotech”. None of which changed the fact that she’d incorrectly told somebody that a Slender Parasol was a true Parasol. The next morning, after a moderator had deleted everything she’d posted after my initial post pointing out her mistake, she continued with more of the same. She eventually told me that she was going to report me to Facebook for harrassment. Oddly enough, I’ve not heard anything from Facebook on this subject.

(4) Picking and hoping

Why bother learning to identify fungi when you can just go out and pick everything you find and post a photo on the internet accompanied by the words “which ones I can eat?” or “what sort of fungi are these?”. Not “are any of these rare?” or “how do I learn to identify these?” This behaviour is lazy, anti-social and ecologically irresponsible. It gives foraging a bad name and is another practice that hands ammunition to those who want it banned. And, predictably, many of the people who’ve posted pictures of their unidentified “haul” tend to get rather upset when instead of being congratulated, they are asked to stop behaving in an unacceptable way, leading to more flame wars. Perhaps the worst example I have ever seen of this wasn’t on a facebook group, but on my own facebook page (Geoff’s Fungi and Foraging) a few years ago. Somebody posted a photo of a kitchen sink full of water, with a large amount of fungi bobbing around in it. The person said “My wife picked these this morning in the local woods. Which ones are edible?” I didn’t quite know where to start. Firstly I could see at least one poisonous Amanita in the sink, so the whole sinkful was potentially contaminated with amatoxins (Are they water soluble? Does anybody know?). Secondly it is impossible to identify most fungi when they are bobbing around in a sink of water. Thirdly, most fungi absorb water like sponges and you shouldn’t even wash them if it can possibly be avoided, let alone drown them. And fourthly this was “pick and hope” on a grand scale, and the person responsible may well have been picking rare stuff. When I pointed all this out, the person who’d posted it got very angry, because I was “trying to make me and my wife look stupid in public.”

In summary

The British fungi foraging community needs, at this point, to be aware that we have arrived at something of a cultural crossroads. I believe it is now very likely, and possibly inevitable, that there is going to be a change in the law governing foraging. Right now we still have a chance to self-regulate within the community. We have a chance to influence the direction this culture develops in, to minimise some of the worst practices described above. If we do not then I fear that the result may well be that the those people who want to see fungi foraging prohibited may yet get exactly what they want. It is far from impossible. There are places in Continental Europe where a total ban is in place, and it could happen here.

Better late than never – mushroom season kicks off down south

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Fungi season kicks off in the south

Fungi collected during my first ever session with customers. Late August 2010.

It’s only a month late. After the worst September in the south of England for fungi in many years, it is finally all kicking off. In fact if we are talking variety of fungi actually found compared to what I was expecting, this morning’s session was the best for many years. I started by warning my foraging students to expect to find very little, but we found bay boletes, penny buns, chanterelles, beefsteaks, plenty of brown birch boletes, parasols, horse mushrooms, a wide variety of russulas and several sorts of Amanita including some rare ones, chicken of the woods, white-laced shanks, spindle shanks, spotted toughshanks and quite a lot of other things also.  I’ve also had reports of giant puffballs coming through – very late for those.

When is a ban not a ban?

It has now become apparent that what was reported as a “ban” on fungi foraging in the New Forest is nothing of the sort. As admitted verbally in an interview on “You and Yours” on Radio 4 a few days ago, and now in writing in the comments section of this blog: https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/look-but-dont-pick-wild-mushrooms-and-the-forestry-commission-guest-blog-by-peter-marren/#comments, the Forestry Commission has no power to enfore the “ban”.  It is entirely voluntary, and anybody is free to ignore it. The only thing they can actually stop is commercial picking, which was already illegal.

First print run of the new book arrives in the UK

cover_cropFinally, the initial printing of my new book Edible Mushrooms: a forager’s guide to the wild fungi of Britain, Ireland and Europe has now arrived on British soil. Not long to wait now! I hope to send out the first signed copies (to people who’ve already paid me for them) in the next few days. Please contact me by email if you’d like to buy one.

The Cantharellales rule supreme

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Chanterelles - 31/10/2015, Sussex.

Chanterelles – 31/10/2015, Sussex.

It’s been a superb October for fungi…if what you were after were members of the Cantharellales. If you were hoping for something else, it’s been somewhat less impressive. Yet again, the wild fungi have demonstrated that the only thing that isn’t surprising about their behaviour is their enduring capacity to surprise.

It was a good start to the season. From late August to mid-September there was a nice selection of brittlegills, milkcaps, agaricuses and large boletes to be found – typical fare for that time of year. It was also obvious from the get-go that it was going to be a stunning year for Cantharellus cibarius – I’d seen more Chanterelles by the middle of September than I had in the last four years put together.

Horn of Plenty - Sussex, 31/10/2015

Horn of Plenty – Sussex, 31/10/2015

Then we had a period of dry, warm weather and almost everything ground to a halt. I have been waiting for the recovery ever since, and there’s still no sign of it. Trekking through the woodland of Sussex and Kent this afternoon, you’d be forgiven for thinking it hasn’t rained in weeks, at least as far as the fungi are concerned. Nearly all the major groups of fungi are absent entirely. I was out for three hours today and I saw not a single Amanita, brittlegill, russula, Agaricus, puffball, webcap, deceiver, honey fungus or oyster mushroom. And the only bolete I found was a solitary Peppery Bolete.

Wrinkled Club - late October 2015, Kent.

Wrinkled Club – late October 2015, Kent.

There are some good edible things still to be found in numbers, and they all belong to the same taxonomic Order (an order is two levels above genus – humans belong to the order “primates”). That Order is called Cantherellales, and in addition to the Chanterelles (family Cantherellaceae) it includes a variety of other fungi including the Hedgehogs (Hydnaceae) and a family of club fungi called Clavulinaceae that look entirely unrelated to the well-known Cantherellales but have recently been moved there as the result of DNA testing. One unexpected advantage to situations like this is that I go to the bother of experimenting with what is available, and it turns out that Wrinkled Club – widely dismissed as not worth collecting – is rather good to eat! Perhaps not so surprising given that so many other things in its order are considered to be delicacies.

Late October collection (31/10/2015). Horn of Plenty, Hedgehog Fungus, Winter Chanterelle, Wavy-capped Chanterelle, Chanterelle, Wood Blewit, Clouded Funnel, Scarlet Waxcap, Snowy Waxcap, Peppery Bolete.

Late October collection (31/10/2015). Horn of Plenty, Hedgehog Fungus, Winter Chanterelle, Wavy-capped Chanterelle, Chanterelle, Wood Blewit, Clouded Funnel, Scarlet Waxcap, Snowy Waxcap, Peppery Bolete.

My afternoon was rescued slightly right at the end by a trip to a local churchyard. Even here, things were not quite as you might expect for the end of October, but there were at least a few other things – a patch of Wood Blewits, another of Clouded Funnel, and few scattered waxcaps where last year there was a carpet.

So what on earth is going on? I have no idea why it is such a special year for the Chanterelles and their allies, but one thing this group tend to have in common is that they are slow growing and long lasting. That this was going to be a classic year for them was already decided long before the weather turned unseasonally warm and dry in mid-September. They also last for a long time once fruited, so the large numbers of Chanterelles, Horn of Plenty, Hedgehogs and Wrinkled Clubs were already growing before the weather changed. The other autumn fungi fall into two categories from where we currently are – the late summer and early autumn species, which had already fruited their hearts out by mid-September, and the later autumn species which hadn’t even got going. And even though November starts tomorrow, the average temperature hasn’t got low enough to trigger their fruiting. At least, that’s the best theory I can come up with, and if I am right then as soon as the temperature drops significantly there should be decent recovery, and maybe fungi all over the place.

So we must wait for the temperatures to drop, and see what happens. Unfortunately, the current long-range forecast is showing temperatures staying unseasonally high, well into November. Here’s a prediction: this mushroom season will see a second peak in the third week in November…

In response to Sara Cadbury’s attack on John Wright

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


It’s nearly mushroom season, and the argument between mycologists and foragers is in the news again, this time because mycologist Sara Cadbury has attacked the activities of John Wright and other “celebrity foragers” in the New Forest, as reported by the Daily Mail.


All these TV programmes about the ‘wild food’ craze and foraging in the forest merely serve to popularise the idea of mushroom picking. People now come from all over the country to pick mushrooms in the New Forest and that just shouldn’t be happening. There are more and more courses in mushroom picking being run and the hotels in the area are jumping on the bandwagon too. The Forestry Commission needs to be brought into line because they are giving out the wrong message. The forest suffers as a result of all the picking local people are fed up with it. Fungus is a central part to the web of life – nearly all plants and trees rely on them for their growth, as do many invertebrates. The only answer is to take the same measures as Epping Forest does and ban the picking of mushrooms entirely. A blanket ban is the only way to ensure mushrooms are not picked for commercial purposes.


Here we go again.

It is quite clear that there is a cultural change going on in the UK. Having been a mycophobic culture since forever, we are becoming a mycophyllic culture.

And it does lead to an obvious question. There are many European countries which have been mycophyllic for generations – Italy, Poland, Russia etc… Every year in these countries, a significant proportion of the population descends on the forests and take whatever fungi they can find that are good to eat. And oddly enough, the fungi in those countries seem to be doing just fine. So the question is this: why do mycologists in the UK fear that something terrible is going to happen to British fungal populations because foraging has become popular, when nothing especially terrible has happened in Italy or Poland? Do they think our fungi are different in some way? Or that some other factor makes a decisive difference?

People don’t like change, especially conservative people (with a small “c”). And it is not that surprising that people who have been recording fungi for many years, and who not so long ago had those fungi pretty much to themselves because almost nobody foraged in the UK, don’t like this cultural change. However, trying to stop it happening is like trying to stop the tide coming in. It’s part of a much wider cultural trend towards re-learning lost skills/knowledge, reconnecting with the natural world and eating more natural and interesting food. You might argue that you can do these things without foraging for fungi, but that won’t make any difference to the people who are interested in learning to forage for fungi.

What is her actual argument?

Firstly she complains that “people are making money” and “the forest is being exploited.”  Well, people were already thoroughly “exploiting” almost all of the woodland in Britain when the Romans invaded, and have been doing so ever since. This claim has nothing to do with conservation or ecology. Coppicers “exploit” woodland, and their activity is widely understood to increase biodiversity, so “exploitation” is not necessarily bad for ecology/conservation. It depends on exactly what is being done.

She also says that “people now come from all over the country to pick mushrooms in the New Forest and that just shouldn’t be happening.” She’s right. That shouldn’t be happening, and it is rather daft, because there’s plenty of woodland in other places. But it certainly isn’t an argument against fungi foraging in general, just that the New Forest is being inundated, rather pointlessly, by too many people from other parts of the country.

Then she says “The forest suffers as a result of all the picking, local people are fed up with it.”

“The forest suffers”? How does the forest suffer? She left that bit out.

“Local people are fed up with it” makes what is going on a bit clearer.  If people were coming from all over the UK to a small area in my bit of Sussex then I’d be pretty fed up about it too.

The ecological argument offered is this:

“Fungus is a central part to the web of life – nearly all plants and trees rely on them for their growth, as do many invertebrates.”

And the problem with this claim is that, as John Wright points out, picking fruiting bodies doesn’t actually harm the fungus. Even if you pick every single penny bun beneath an oak tree, the tree is not harmed in any way, and neither is the fungus.  It’s ecologically no different to picking apples or blackberries. The only bit of the argument that actually works is the bit about the invertebrates. Yes, if you take all of the fungi in a particular area and if there are local populations of insects that are dependent on fungi to feed their grubs, then the population of those invertebrates will suffer. But I am not sure that a local decline in population of a few obscure species of beetle and fly which are either unthreatened or ecologically irrelevant warrants this level of outrage.


Mixed Foraged Spring Salad

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


One day after their traditional appearance-time of St George’s Day, there is no sign of St George’s Mushrooms in their usual spots in Sussex, although I’ve heard one or two reports of their arrival elsewhere in the country. There is, however, no shortage of luxuriant spring plant growth, and it is the perfect time to put together a foraged woodland/streamside mixed salad.

April 23rd 2015: edible woodland plants

April 23rd 2015: edible woodland plants

Every now and then you’ll come across a location that’s got it all – well, almost. There are multiple edible species in this picture: Ramsons (Wild Garlic), Lady’s Smock, Alternate-leaved Saxifrage, Orpine (top left), Lesser Celandine and Nettles – although those won’t be going in a salad! In fact, the only plants in the picture that you can’t eat are the grasses and the Hemlock Water Dropwort (bottom left corner). Unfortunately for the unwary forager, if you eat Hemlock Water Dropwort then you will die. Within a few tens of metres of where this photo was taken there were two other edible salad species (water mint and primrose), as well as loads of pignuts (the edible tubers of which are illegal to dig up). On my way home I stopped on a quiet country lane and collected the rest of the ingredients, apart from the ivy-leaved toadflax, which grows on the walls in my garden.

A selection of edible spring plants

A selection of edible spring plants

On the board, starting top left and going down in columns: Garlic Mustard, Primrose flowers, Lesser Celandine leaves, Water Mint, Lady’s Smock flowers, Alternate-Leaved Golden Saxifrage, Wild Chervil (AKA Cow Parsley), Orpine, Three-cornered Leek (with flowers), Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Hairy Bittercress, Ramsons (with flowers). Beware if you’re foraging for Cow Parsley, because it is very easily confused with Hemlock, which is deadly.

All sorts of other things might have made it into a spring salad – these just happened to be the things I came across yesterday. There’s a real mixture of flavours in here – garlicky, minty, seriously aromatic, sweet and hot, as well as some milder things to bulk it up without blowing your head off. To make the salad, first wash everything and dry, then finely chop the Garlic Mustard and Wild Chervil. Roughly chop everything else, then mix it up well.

Foraged mixed spring salad, washed and chopped.

Foraged mixed spring salad, washed and chopped.

I like to serve it with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, either with or without lemon juice depending on whether there are any lemon-flavoured plants (e.g. the various sorrels) in the salad. To make the dressing mix extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and light soy sauce in proportions 6:2:1:1, and then add freshly ground salt and pepper.

This fresh spring growth will be available for about the next month before summer takes over and many of these plants aren’t so good to eat.

Dawn forage with Radio Kent wraps up mushroom season 2014

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


The Panthercap (Amanita pantherina) probably won't kill you, but it is likely to put you in hospital.  This species is normally quite scarce, but it found the unusual weather conditions in 2014 to its liking and was almost as common this autumn as its bright red relative the fly agaric (A. muscaria) (which had a rare bad year).

The Panthercap (Amanita pantherina) probably won’t kill you, but it is likely to put you in hospital. This species is normally quite scarce, but it found the unusual weather conditions in 2014 to its liking and was almost as common this autumn as its bright red relative the fly agaric (A. muscaria) (which had a rare bad year).

Well, apart from a few scattered stragglers, mushroom season is all over for another year. 2014 has certainly been a weird one. Unless December gets very cold very soon, this year will go down as the warmest since records began, both in the UK and globally, and while we haven’t had any heatwave, we did have unusual autumn weather. The result was that a lot of normally-common species never really turned up, but quite a few uncommon species had a bumper year. I’ve never seen so many Panthercaps, for example- it’s a shame you can’t eat them. It bodes well for 2015 though, because when fungi take a year off they do tend to bounce back spectacularly the following year.

Anyway, my mushroom season ended with an appearance on Radio Kent, who asked me to take a reporter foraging somewhere in that county. Unfortunately, my map-based instructions involving roads and junctions had been turned into a satnav-friendly postcode by the time they reached the reporter and since car parks in the middle of forests don’t tend to have postal codes, and since there was almost no mobile phone signal, it nearly didn’t happen. Luckily the reporter did eventually find his way to the meeting spot just as dawn was breaking, and we headed off into a nearby stand of conifers.

I had brought a foraging student along with me, and he was kind enough to record the proceedings on his iPad, so you can see a fifteen minute video of the foraging, cook-up and interview here. Thanks to Paul Crosland for doing that.

Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens)

Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens)

This one little patch of woodland defied the general trend and produced more finds than I would have expected if we’d spent the whole day walking round the 380 hectare forest that surrounds it. I have no idea what makes that patch so special, but something does, so it’s precise location remains top secret. We found plenty of hedgehog fungi and a patch of their smaller terracotta relatives, several large troops of winter chanterelles, a penny bun (I don’t recall ever seeing one of those in December before), a couple of bay boletes and some shaggy parasols and wood blewits. We didn’t bother picking any of the ochre brittlegills that were liberally scattered all over the place, and I left the solitary charcoal burner (very late for that species too). Not a bad selection in December for a chunk of woodland about 3 acres in size.

Tricholoma saponaceum

Tricholoma saponaceum

One other edible species was abundant, and it warrants a special mention. This is the fungus with perhaps the most unfortunate name of all (dog vomit slime mould isn’t actually a fungus). The Tricholomas have been given the common name “Knight”, and this one, because it supposedly smells of “institutional washrooms”, has the specific epithet “saponaceum”, meaning “soap”. Put those together and you end up with the name “Soapy Knight”. Most sources list this mushroom as either inedible or mildly toxic (who’d want to eat soap, after all?). However, a little bit more research will reveal that there is no information on the toxins supposedly involved, or their effects, and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, it’s been traditionally eaten (although I don’t know where). I’ve eaten it many times, and this year decided to try it on my other half, having not told her beforehand that it allegedly smells/tastes of soap. “Mmmm, I like that. Strong taste! Smoky…meaty…a bit like salami!”, she said.  It is indeed edible, but I can’t bring myself to call it by its ludicrous common name, so I think I’ll just stick to Tricholoma saponaceum.

My prices for 2015 and event schedule as currently known are now on this website (see menu at the top of this page). Vouchers are available if you want to give somebody an interesting Christmas gift.

I’ll be blogging again in the new year. I’m planning on making 2015 the year I really get to grips with cooking with wild plants.

Happy holidays,


November foraging: beauty in a basket

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


November collection

November collection

After a stupidly dry September and a stupidly warm October, the weather has finally returned to something resembling normal, and the fungi are now also back to something resembling normal. And in November, that means a riot of spectacular colour. It’s as if the fungi are competing with the deciduous trees: “So you think you’re putting on a bit of a show, do you? Well, see what we can do!” With the exception of some very large and rather ancient (but still edible) chanterelles and hedgehogs, all the species in this basket are typical November species. Well, the prince and the blusher can appear at any time from late summer right through until now, but the rest are late season specialists. The winter chanterelles were a couple of weeks later than normal and are only just coming through strongly in the last few days, those are the first decent crop of blewits I’ve seen south of Northamptonshire this year, there’s a solitary trooping funnel in there and a couple of bay boletes (not a good year for either of those two species, which are both normally abundant in November). The pistachio-coloured orange and green things are saffron milkcaps, but even their rather striking colour scheme cannot compete with the most beautiful of all the edible fungi: the waxcaps (snowy, crimson, scarlet and golden).

I am expecting the next fortnight to be very good for fungi, after the main part of the season was disappointing at best, and largely dismal.

Scarlet Waxcaps

Dark Penny Bun, Take Two

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


I have a confession to make. I had to remove my previous blog entry because it contained an error – and those can be serious in this line of business. However, there’s some lessons here. The first is that not all fungi foraging mistakes are equal – if you’re going to get something wrong then the difference between mistaking a delicacy for another delicacy and mistaking a poisonous species for a delicacy is also the difference between a tasty dinner and your last dinner. It was not good fortune that my mistake was the former rather than the latter, but the result of knowing that even if I got something in this region of fungal taxonomy wrong, I wasn’t going to end up being poisoned. It was a mistake nonetheless, and so this blog post will retrace the steps that led me astray.

I’ve long been aware of the existence of three mushrooms very similar to a penny bun (Boletus edulis, cep, porcino). All three are much rarer, at least in southern England, and all of them highly prized – at least as much as their more famous relative, and one case even more so. The three in question are the Summer Bolete (B. reticulatus), the Dark Penny Bun (or Dark Cep, B. aereus) and the Pine Bolete (B. pinophilus). As the years marched on and I continued to never find any of them, I started to wonder whether maybe I’d seen them many times and had been mistaking them for a Penny Bun. I mean…exactly how similar where they?

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

Then two things led to my first mistake. The Summer Bolete does not always fruit in the summer, and its name comes from the reticulations on its stem – a network of raised lines. I came across a couple of pictures on the internet claiming to be B. reticulatus, showing a clear, white network of lines on a mushroom that otherwise looked exactly like a bog-standard penny bun. “Ah”, I thought, “so I’ve been picking these up and just not realising what they were. Now I know what a Summer Bolete is.” Except I didn’t. My picture (left) is not of B. reticulatus. It’s just a penny bun with a particularly noticeable network of reticulations on its stem.

And when you’re working by a process of elimination – which is sometimes a legitimate strategy when identifying fungi – then one mistake can lead to another. When, two weeks ago, I found a mushroom with a light brown, suede-like cap, and white pores, I ended up concluding that it had to be B. aereus – it didn’t look dark enough, but then again some of the pictures I could find of that species had caps as light, especially when they were quite small. So I blogged about Dark Penny Buns.

Summer Bolete (Boletus reticulatus)

Summer Bolete (Boletus reticulatus)

Then a few days later I found lots more of them – outside a pub where the landlord had taken a dislike and dumped a load of earth on them, in a futile attempt to stop them popping up on his land. At this point, with more specimens as examples, it dawned on me what had happened. These couldn’t be B. aereus because they were the wrong colour. Dark Penny Buns have to be Dark. So they had to be B. reticulatus, and what I’d thought was that species were Penny Buns. The network on their stems is much finer, and brown rather white.

Dark Penny Bun, or Dark Cep (Boletus aereus)

Dark Penny Bun, or Dark Cep (Boletus aereus)

Then, in a twist so typical of mushroom foraging, something else turned up. Yesterday I visited a site where hedgehog fungi grow in great profusion every year, collecting for two foraging workshops in Northamptonshire. They were there as usual, but this time they had a friend – a solitary, dark-capped mushroom that otherwise looked remarkably like a penny bun. And by now you will have guessed where this story is going: this really was a dark penny bun. And it really was delicious.

As for the fourth member of this quartet – the Pine Bolete? That remains on the “to find” list, but the way this autumn is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up next week.

27/11/2015: UPDATE

The fourth member of the quartet has turned up. Where? On the banner at the top of my main page, of course! I’ve been mistaking Pine Boletes for Penny Buns, it seems.


Winter Chanterelles: what would I do in November without them?

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


When the days have got shorter and the wind and rain have chased the fair-weather foragers back to their cosy living rooms, when the chanterelles have all been picked and any penny buns still standing are just hollow, grub-filled shells, when the deciduous trees have dropped most of their leaves and the mainstream modern world has turned the central heating on and is looking forward to Christmas…is mushroom season over? Hell, no it isn’t!

White Saddle (Helvella crispa) having a storming 2013.  These usually turn up as singletons, but have been trooping in large numbers this year.

White Saddle (Helvella crispa) having a storming 2013. These usually turn up as singletons, but have been trooping in large numbers this year.

I nearly didn’t post this. I sat in the bath for a while and mulled it over. Do I really want to tell people this? Wouldn’t it be better just to keep quiet about it and post something about what an extraordinary year it has been for the strange, recently-declared-toxic White Saddle (Helvella crispa) instead? But then I concluded that not enough people read my blog to make any significant impact on the greatest fungal bounty the British countryside has to offer, especially since it involves people trudging around in the mud in search of something that most of them probably wouldn’t notice if it was right in front of them. And yet it ranks right up there among the best of the edible wild fungi and in a good year it fruits in such wild abundance that it would take an army of foragers to pick even half of them.

Now that mushroom foraging has really taken off in the UK it is not so easy to find Chanterelles (Cantherellus cibarius). They are, after all, bright yellow-orange and can be spotted from 40 metres if your vision is any good. I mean…there’s not that many brightly coloured objects scattered around on the woodland floor and everybody who has ever taken an interest in wild fungi knows what a chanterelle looks like. Plus they grow when you can still go mushrooming in a T-shirt. Far fewer people ever go looking for their late-season cousins, regardless of the fact that they outnumber the apricot-scented chanterelle by a factor of at least a thousand.

Winter Chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis). Early November 2013.

Winter Chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis). Early November 2013.

I am talking, of course, about Craterellus tubaeformis, otherwise known as the Winter Chanterelle, Trumpet Chanterelle or Yellowleg (or unhelpfully and confusingly called a Chanterelle, as it is in France, by people who also call Chanterelles by the French name “Girolle”). They are the sort of thing you probably wouldn’t notice at all unless you were looking for them. They are grey-brown, rather ragged and very well camouflaged. They also like to grow under bracken in inaccessible places. However, if you do happen to spot one then you stand a very good chance of finding as many more of them as you have the time and inclination to pick, and that is especially true right now. 2013 has been a vintage year for the whole of the Cantherellaceae family, so it comes as no surprise that it is proving to be a vintage year for C. tubaeformis.

What do you do with them? Well, first you have to take them home and carefully clean them. This requires the removal of the stem bases (if you weren’t sensible/patient enough to do that before you put them in your basket), then the use of a brush or nimble fingers to get rid of pine needles and bits of bracken. You’ll also need to tear open the bigger ones because they tend to accumulate debris and small animals inside their tubular stems. They have a taste which is both strong and delicate. Not overpowering, but enough to impart a lovely flavour to anything you might cook them with which isn’t already overpoweringly strong-tasting.  They make a great addition to spaghetti bolognese, but if you want to try something a bit more adventurous then I can heartily recommend the wild mushroom and leek tart posted on our sister site Charmed Pot, which would work perfectly well with 100% Winter Chanterelles, although there are still Hedgehog Mushrooms (Hydnum repandum) about.

Winter chanterelles in abundance. These were picked on the first day I had a customer fail to turn up for a foraging session.  And it was at a location chosen by himself! Bad move.

Winter chanterelles in abundance. These were picked on the first day I had a customer fail to turn up for a foraging session. And it was at a location chosen by himself! Bad move.

As for identification problems, there isn’t much you could get these mixed up with. Maybe some of the small milkcaps, which don’t taste nice but won’t do you any harm. They are rather variable, both in size and shape, but they occur in such prodigious numbers that it shouldn’t take you long to familiarise yourself with all the variation they have to offer. All you’ve got to is find that first one.

Provided it doesn’t get really cold (serious frosts) before then, I expect to keep finding this species right through until the end of November and beyond. They will run out of steam before Christmas even if it hasn’t got seriously cold by then.

The Penny Bun Storm Hits

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Penny Bun (Boletus edulis, Porcino, Cep)

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis, Porcino, Cep)

Re: my last blog post: OK, I was wrong, the pundits were right this time and the much-anticipated “penny bun storm” appears to have arrived.  It’s perhaps a little later than expected (although the mushrooms rarely do what people expect them to do), but there is now no doubt that 2013 is going to go down as a very good year for Boletus edulis, otherwise known as a Porcino or Cep, and the most important commercially collected species in the world. I have in the last week seen numerous pictures posted from all over the UK of large collections of this species, mostly in excellent condition.  And in those places where other people haven’t already been out picking, I’m finding plenty myself.

Lurid Bolete (Boletus luridus)

Lurid Bolete (Boletus luridus)

It is also looking like a pretty good year for most of the good edible species.  I’m finding more chanterelles (Cantherellus cibarius) than usual, very abundant fruitings of Parasol Mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera), Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), Hedgehog Mushrooms (Hydnum repandum) and also a wide selection of other boletes, especially the Penny Bun’s “poor relation” the Bay Bolete (Boletus badius).  This morning I also found a lovely collection of what are arguably the most beautiful of the pored mushrooms, the Lurid Bolete (Boletus luridus).  They almost look too pretty to eat.  Be careful if collecting, because there are some poisonous red-pored boletes – this is not the easiest branch of the family as far as safe collecting is concerned.  An important identifying feature of this particular species is the persistent red line just above the tubes when cut. Also note that they are poisonous raw, and need to be well cooked.

All things considered, 2013 is shaping up to be a bumper year for fungi (a claim that is made every year in some quarters…this year is actually true). The season is likely to peak over the next three weeks so get ready for what is likely to be a glorious October for fungiphiles!