The world of edible wild mushrooms is not for the faint-hearted. Mistakes can land you in hospital – or worse – but with thorough research it is possible to enjoy some fine fungi at your dinner table . . .
Towards the end of autumn it started raining here and it hasn’t really stopped since. We’ve had the odd fine day, but for the most part it has been wet, wet, wet.
In my job as a road inspector, I clock up a lot of kilometres in the car each day, travel a lot of roads, most of them in rural areas. After a week of rain I began to notice something . . . mushrooms were coming up everywhere.
Thousands of them, and in particular a tall, white variety with a cap the size of a dinner plate!
It seemed every paddock with cattle in it had a stack of these giant ‘schrooms’. Now most people would take little, if any, notice.
Me being me though, my first thought was: ‘I wonder if you can eat them?’
I know what you’re saying right now. It will be something along the lines of “bugger you, they’re poisonous aren’t they?” Well, turns out they aren’t.
Before I go any further though, let me make it plain that I am not a mushroom expert and I am not writing this piece as a guide on how to identify particular types of fungi that are safe to eat.
What I hope to do is show you that with a bit of research, you too can make an informed decision on whether wild mushrooms are something that you might like to try, just as I did.
So . . . back to the giant, white mushrooms.
My first option was to ask around as to whether they were edible. I didn’t hold much hope here.
North Queenslanders in general are a cautious bunch. It’s bad enough with the crocodiles, venomous snakes, jellyfish, spiders and sharks trying to kill you while you’re just minding your own business, without going out and doing something stupid like eating a poisonous mushroom!
No one I spoke to had ever even considered the idea, nor did they know of any brave souls who had. I had half hoped to learn of some eccentric character, wandering the wilds of the Far North with an encyclopaedic mind overflowing with information on the region’s wild fungi and a full stomach from reaping the rewards of this knowledge.
Such a person may exist (probably European, bearded and prone to unpredictable mood swings) but so far I haven’t found them. So I did what we all do when we want to know something these days.
I Googled it.
The first thing I found out is these particular fungi are called long-stemmed parasols.
As you can see from the picture above, they are huge. By far the biggest fungi I have seen that has a stem and cap.
It wasn’t too hard to find out what particular species I was dealing with, however there is a similar one that is bad news. Like I said before, make sure you do your research before consuming.
Next step was to find out if it was edible.
Not a lot of info around. A similar species of parasol mushroom grows in Europe and is very popular, especially in France, but I could only find one reference to anyone in Australia who had eaten this local variation.
It was in the writings of a fellow WordPress blogger that I found out that, while eating long-stemmed parasols can cause stomach upsets in some people, the author had eaten them without any ill effect.
Check out his experiences at http://www.mushroaming.wordpress.com
I had all the information I needed. I felt confident enough to take the next step.
So after work the next day, I drove 15 minutes to where my nephew has a 30-acre cattle block, and sure enough, I could see numerous white discs scattered across it. I grabbed two, around 25 centimetres in diameter, and headed for my kitchen.
The smell in the car on the way was wonderful; a fresh earthy smell, almost like freshly tilled soil, with a faint ‘mushroomy’ edge. By the time I got home, my stomach was rumbling.
Recipes for long-stemmed parasols simply don’t exist, at least under that name. I’ve since learnt that they also grow in India and China and are regularly consumed in those places.
I’m sure they would have their own names for them and their own recipes. They are many recipes for European parasols though, and one of the simplest of these is to season them well and fry them in butter and herbs.
Sounded like a good option to me.
Nothing to overpower the true taste, which I wanted to experience as unaltered as possible. Also, when raw, these mushrooms have a very mild toxin which dissipates when cooked, so frying them on high heat is a good way to make sure you don’t get an upset stomach.
How to prepare them
Snap off the stem, then cut the cap into slices about 1 centimetre thick, before frying in butter with some fresh thyme from my garden and a pinch of salt and pepper.
I gave them about 3-4 minutes each, and was impressed at how well they took on a lovely, caramelised crust as they browned in the hot butter. I couldn’t wait to taste them and when I did, well what can I say.
You could tell you were eating mushroom, but unlike anything you buy in a store. So meaty and rich, any remaining thoughts of apprehension were blown away.
I couldn’t stop eating them. Even now, I dream about it and my mouth waters. And I’m sure you’ll agree – they look impressive on the plate.
But why bother with them, I still hear some of you asking?
All I can say is for me this was a first step and I know without doubt that I won’t be turning back. Yes, eating wild fungi does have an element of risk. Yes, it can be dangerous.
For me though, long-stemmed parasols are an example of a perfectly good(and delicious) food item that grows right under our noses and is free.
Just because something is not in a jar . . . or under plastic . . . or in a tin . . . or in bag on a supermarket shelf, does not mean it doesn’t taste good or isn’t good for you.
In most cases, I think you’ll find the exact opposite is true!