Tag Archives: “panther cap”

Dawn forage with Radio Kent wraps up mushroom season 2014

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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,


Blushers abound, but beware the lurking panther


The mushroom season sometimes starts slowly, and sometimes bursts into life in a flash. The main action can start any time between the end of August and the start of October, but 2013 is shaping up to be a good one and an early starter. I held my first public session of the year yesterday afternoon (in Kent), and the results were very promising for such an early date. It was also very wet, which isn’t so brilliant from a picking point of view, but bodes well for the immediate future: yesterday’s deluge is likely to be the starting pistol for the bulk of the autumn species.

We did not find a vast selection of different groups of fungi. Instead there was a useful selection of many different species belonging to two groups: russula and amanita. This is actually quite helpful from a learning point of view, because it allows people to familiarise themselves with a particular subset of fungi rather than being overwhelmed with all sorts of unrelated and very different types. There were large amounts of one good edible species belonging to each group.  We also found a nice selection of other edible bits and pieces, including chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), pale oysters (Pleurotus pulmonarius) and common inkcaps (Coprinellus atramentaria). The good edible russula that turned up in quantity was the charcoal burner (Russula cyanoxantha), but since my last post was partly about an edible russula, I will dedicate this one to the other group.

The Blusher ([em]Amanita rubescens[/em])

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

Amanita is not a genus for foraging beginners. It contains the two deadliest species in the world (the death cap (A. phalloides) and destroying angel (A. virosa)), as well as the infamous, but beautiful and enchanting fly agaric (A. muscaria), which is both hallucinogenic and nauseating. The good edible amanita we found large numbers of yesterday is a close relative of the fly agaric. It is called “the blusher”, and it’s a substantial, common and very tasty fungus. It also contains toxins, but they are broken down by cooking. All parts of the mushroom must be heated to above 80 degrees for this to happen. I find this puts some people off, but it’s really no different to cooking chicken. The picture on the left wasn’t taken yesterday, but last week in southern Scotland on my way back down to Sussex, of blushers growing in the grounds of a service station by the M74 motorway. The name refers to the tendency of this mushroom to turn slowly pink, especially when the flesh is exposed to the air. This is one of the important distinguishing features, which is very important if you are thinking of eating it, because this species is all too easily mixed up with several other members of its genus, one of which is particularly similar and particularly nasty.


Panthercap (Amanita pantherina)

And right on cue, the nasty lookalike appeared in the middle of yesterday’s session in Kent. The panther cap (Amanita pantherina) is another close relative of the fly agaric and blusher, and it contains similar toxins to the former, except considerably more of them. Panther caps are right on the border of being fatally poisonous – eat one or two and you are probably just going to have a very unpleasant experience, eat an unhealthy plateful of them and you might just die.

So how do you tell them apart? Panthercaps (left) do not “blush” like the blusher, and have more spiky and pronounced veil-remnants (spots) on the cap, and these are white rather than pinky-grey. They also have a different sort of stem base – the blusher has a bulb (volva) which merges neatly into the stem, whereas the panther cap has a “step” or rim around what is left of the volva. My advice is to do what I did: do not collect blushers for the pot until you’ve found and identified a panther cap.

Blackberries fruiting in profusion, end of August 2013.

Blackberries fruiting in profusion, end of August 2013.

Having had such a successful day yesterday, I decided to go out early this afternoon in the sunshine and explore some local bits of countryside in my new home town of Hastings. I ended up not quite where I intended to go, walking out on a wooden walkway that led to a viewing platform (a dead end) in the middle of a very large reed bed. On my way back to the woodland I’d intended to visit, I stumbled upon enough blackberries to keep me busy for the whole afternoon. It seems 2013 is going to be a bumper year for certain types of fruit. It is reportedly the best year in several for apples (and the tree at the bottom of my garden would appear to confirm this), and if this lot is anything to go by then it is also going to be a storming year for blackberries.

Watch out for those mushrooms – it is all about to kick off.