Mushroom Collecting

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.

13 thoughts on “Mushroom Collecting

  1. I haven’t gathered wild mushrooms since I was a kid in Canberra-we lived near a horse paddock and used to get a lot after it rained. The reason we stopped? There was an accidental poisoning, my Dad missed one dangerous one in with the lot, we all had mushrooms on toast (even our neighbour!) and were hallucinating and violently ill for hours after! I grow my own in a home kit now, but it’s not as magical as hunting for them in the wild. Your safety tips are good-I will show them to my father:)

  2. That’s one of my dreams — mushroom hunting. Growing up in the concrete jungle of Bangkok, the only mushrooms I’ve ever picked from the ground were the ones with red caps and white polka dots that made my mom scream blood murder when I was about to put them in my mouth.

    I almost got to go mushroom hunting with an expert forager twice. Something happened both times and I still haven’t had a chance to pick mushrooms from a forest.

    By the way, I never knew the German word for ramps before. I’m glad I know now, because the umlaut makes everything taste better. :)

  3. Mushrooms like those in the photos often sprung out in our paddock and lawn. I didn’t dare to touch them until one of my aunties came by and saw them, picked the lots and cooked them. She said that I wasted the goodness of earth. Ha! There are a lot of different mushrooms growing in this countryside, you just need to be careful. I defended myself, of course hehehe…

  4. I’ve also always been interested in mushroom collecting. However, the only mushrooms I’ve ever come across in my backyard are obviously poisonous fungi as they are strangely shaped and vary from orange to red. Are mushrooms easy to come across?

  5. I haven’t gone mushroom hunting since I was little, when I didn’t even like them! Very jealous. I really should buy myself one of those mushroom kit things to keep at home given my lack of mushroomy forests around these parts.

  6. Ooh – I want to go mushroom hunting in Europe! But a quick flick through my UK mushroom guidebook informs me that the Deadly fibrecap, brown roll rim & poison pies have similar descriptions to the rules to you describe.. Eek! I think I’d very much be relying on the experience of my alive & well guides!

  7. Excellent Arwen – that sounds like so much fun! We found an interesting mushroom in our backyard, but had no idea what sort it was, not even the internet could help… wish we had a friend like yours to help us out with their expertise. :)

  8. Wow, it’s not everyday you meet a mushroom collector! And yep, childhood tales of mushrooms being poisonous fungus scar me from hunting… but still a mushroom-on-pizza lover!

  9. that’s one thing we dont forage on a regular basis in crete – mushrooms are hard to find in general on teh island, becos they dont grow profusely, due to lack of rainy weather, even in winter; i am now reading a book (a pig in provence by georgeanne brennan) which describes many of the wonderful mushrooms in provence -your photos are really helpful for identification, too

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