In Germany every season seems to have its own wild foods, from bärlauch (ramsons) in Spring, to mushrooms in Autumn. Restaurants change their menus with the seasons from asparagus and bärlauch, to strawberries, to pfifferlinge and steinpilze (chanterelles and porcini). The most amazing thing though, is that ordinary people have no fear of deadly toadstools, and harvest their own mushrooms and wild salad leaves for dinner. It’s a connection between the land, food and seasons that most Australians don’t have.
When I discovered that my neighbour Andreas was a mushroom collector, I immediately asked if he would take me mushroom hunting. The next weekend he turned up at the door with a saucepan of mushrooms, which we had for lunch. They were richly flavoured, gooey, brown and good. He asked us when we wanted to go mushroom hunting, and we said “Now!”, and off we went in our raincoats.
Andreas speaks in a rather special combination of dialect and mumbling, so not all of his advice is comprehensible. However, he did make several interesting points clear. Firstly you should always smell a mushroom before eating it. Mushrooms that don’t smell nice are not safe to eat. Secondly if wild animals choose to eat a mushroom that indicates that it is likely to be edible. Lastly, when in doubt, ask an expert. Andreas collected one or two specimens that he was not certain of, in order to get advice from a knowledgeable friend.
On this occasion we collected champignons, and I was pleased to see that they fulfilled the four rules for picking field mushrooms as explained by my mum. These are:
1. The gills must be brown or pink.
2.The mushroom must have a skirt on the stem, where the cap has broken free.
3. You must be able to peal the skin on the cap away easily.
4. It has to smell like a mushroom.
A suspected champignon has to meet all of these conditions before you eat it. There are other kinds of edible mushrooms or course, which have their own sets of rules.
Since our mushrooms conformed to the expectations of two separate expert opinions, we fried them up with onions. At this stage there’s one more useful word of advice from Andreas, which is that if the mushrooms make the onions look blueish you should not eat them. Luckily for us, everything looked and smelt very good, and we ate our mushrooms with freshly baked bread and barbecued bratwurst.