The one thing I find even more enjoyable than photographing fungi is eating them!
Firstly lets get the definition out of the way, Fungi or Mushroom? Searching the web the best explanation I found is ‘All mushrooms are fungi, though not all fungi are mushrooms as there are many more types of fungi than mushrooms’. Also the word ‘fungi’ comes from the Latin fungus, literally mushrooms, and the Greek word sponge. What was good enough for the Greeks etc is good enough for me!
Having spotted fungi over the last week or two even in fairly open ground in Bradgate Park, it was off to Swithland Woods, camera in hand, for some fungi hunting. Unlike the day before, Tuesday was a bright sunny day so shadows and high contrast would be a problem. On top of that the woods are fairly dark at the best of times especially under a thick canopy of trees that many fungi prefer as a habitat. Keeping my trusty 24-70mm lens at f8 to at least get some depth of field, I found I was shooting on ISO 1600 at 1/30 sec in deep shade, moments later ISO 200 at 1/2500 sec when a shaft of sunlight hit my subject.
Getting off the path into a thick blanket of leaves and moving extremely slowly, keeping as low as possible, I soon came across a range of fungi which required laying flat on the ground to photograph. One advantage is that I could use my arm as a rest to help hold the camera steady as I was shooting only inches above the ground.
Although I found all fungi photogenic, in particular my hunt was for the Boletus variety which are great eating especially the Boletus edulis which are prized all over Europe. As an aside, at the weekend a friend had texted we with a picture of a fungi asking if it was good to eat? I replied yes. The next question was ‘How do you know if its edible?’ My reply was ‘All fungi are physically edible except that some may kill you!’ followed by ‘the secret is to know which ones are safe to eat.’ There are a great many books on the subject to help identify the huge range you will come across, however when it comes to safe eaters I go by experience.
Since being a toddler the whole family would visit Swithland Woods and I would love crawling about in the leaves looking for fungi. The Boletus having a slightly sticky top was prone to being covered with leaves. Finding anything, I would show it to Mother who has three standard replies ‘yes its very good to eat’, ‘yes it OK to eat but not very tasty’ and finally ‘NO never eat it, and now wash your hands before having a sandwich’. Having been brought up in the countryside in Eastern Poland, Mother and her siblings would be out each autumn collecting fungi to be used as food throughout the winter so had plenty of experience of them, and passed this knowledge on to me.
When gathering fungi for food I go with ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.
Unfortunately being so tasty lots of creatures also love to have a nibble, from slugs to squirrels, mice and deer so its very common to find examples with bites out of the rich dense brown tops or the spongy underside. Cut the bottom of the stalk and you often find small holes where a few grubs are having a feast. All these signs are of great benefit in identifying its edibility as animals are generally a lot smarter than humans in such matters!
As for eating, they are fantastic sliced and gently fried in butter, however being hard to find, and I can get through a lot in one meal, I much prefer to pickle them, or best of all slice them thinly and air dry them for a few days which greatly intensifies their flavour. When dry they will story for years, then just soak a few slices for 24 hours, chop very finely and add to a soup or stew, delicious!