Mushrooms, toadstools, fungi, moulds, yeast… neither plant not animal, whatever they are, they are quite fascinating and often strangely attractive.
Perhaps I like them because I was an urban child and never came across anything more exotic than the button mushrooms and flats that we could buy at the greengrocer’s. Anything that was found in the wild was labelled as potentially poisonous, so had to be avoided.
As I got older, the flat mushrooms in supermarkets got larger and larger, perfect for stuffing and serving as the inevitable home dinner-party starter of the Seventies.
There’s something beautifully calming about peeling mushrooms, though of course stuffing them with cheese and breadcrumbs and cooking them in butter does rather negate their desirability as a non-fattening food. (I’ve never been a great one for diets, but mushrooms are the only food I remember the calorie count for: just 4 calories per ounce.)
I remember finding horse mushrooms in the fields by my parents’s house, but having gathered them and taken them back to cook we eventually chickened out: the books said there was a poisonous fungus that looked similar but which turned yellow when broken. The whole family gathered and discussed just what constituted “yellow”. Now, with YouTube and high quality images to be found online it might be easier to identify with confidence, but back then we were relying on artful line drawings and text descriptions.
Now there’s usually quite a range of mushrooms available in any supermarket, but when I first went to Spain I wasn’t at all convinced that I should be eating oyster mushrooms as they looked far too unfamiliar. Years later, in the village, mushroom season was widely celebrated with all the local restaurants devising their own signature recipe.
One of those speciality dishes gave me food poisoning and put me off mushrooms of all sorts for many years. Even now, there are times when just the smell is enough to turn my stomach. But even if I am not likely to want to eat them, I remain fascinated by them.
That’s why I stopped to take pictures of this rather magnificent bracket fungus I saw the other day with glistening amber droplets and a very yellow spider’s web. I haven’t manage to identify it, nor do I know what the drops were – though certainly not rain and presumably not sap.
I did, however, find a list of fungus names including: dryad’s saddle, fragrant strangler, golden navel, panthercap and honeycomb crust. I feel I should be inspired to write something, but I’m not sure whether it should be a poem or a fairy story.