Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus) are a wonderfully “mushroomy” mushroom in both taste and appearance but you need to pick and cook them quickly before they collapse into an inky mush of spores.
The distinctive appearance of this mushroom has earned it the common names “Lawyer’s Wig” and “Shaggy Mane”, both of which are apt descriptions. What can be offputting about them is that as they mature, the margins begin to break down and dissolve into a black liquid that contains the spores – that’s where the “ink” bit comes from. In fact, the whole mushroom disappears into a self digesting black mush within a few hours – nice.
Thankfully, shaggy ink caps are quite common and have turned many a futile foraging expedition into rich pickings for me. Keep an eye open for these beauties, particularly on roadsides and on waste ground as well as under pines. They have been around for several weeks already and will continue to appear late into autumn.
When picking them go for the younger specimens as always although if you intend to cook and eat them within a couple of hours, a little bit of raggedness around the edges won’t hurt; i.e. if the caps have started “inking”, you will still be able to eat them.
These mushrooms have a lovely flavour and I enjoy them enormously, fried with onions or liquidised in a soup.
Be aware that although they are a pretty distinctive species there are a number of “inking” mushrooms some of whom it is not advisable to eat at all. In particular, the much darker Coprinus picaceus can resemble young ink caps. Use a couple of field guides to confirm your identification, preferably consult a friend who nows what to look for, don’t eat anything you are not 100% sure of, cut the mushrooms at the stem rather than pulling them up … blah, blah … please read my more detailed article on Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms for some general advice on foraging.
These beautiful little mushrooms must be called “deceivers” because their bright purpleness probably screams “poisonous” or at least ” hallucinogenic” but, of course, they are neither. In fact, they are tasty and delightful, raw or cooked.
Start looking for these now in the leaf mould at the base of beech trees and chestnuts, but also keep an eye open for them in coniferous woodland. The very distinctive purple colour is instantly recognisable but not as easy to spot among fallen leaves. Where they do grow they are likely to be fairly abundant (growing in troops) and recurrent throughout the season; but I have rarely had luck with them in the same place for more than a year.
The Amethyst Deceiver is a small mushroom, the largest specimens being up to 2 inches accross. As they get older, they will become paler and it is best, as with all mushrooms, to try and go for younger and firmer examples for cooking. These mushrooms also need to be well cleaned before they are cooked as a lot of matter can get caught in their broad gills.
A very similar close cousin of the Amethyst Deceiver is also tasty and useful and called simply “The Deceiver”. It has all the characteristics of its lilac relative but is a red-brown colour. I recommend becoming familiar with the Amethyst Deceiver before adding the Deceiver to your foraging repertoire because the latter has more deceptive look-alikes.
Before heading out to pick mushrooms please remember the GOLDEN RULE of only eating what you are 100% sure of identifying correctly. You will need at least one very good illustrated mushroom guide to do this and preferably someone who knows what they are doing to supervise. Please read my last Foraging Friday post on Saffron Milk Caps for more advice or consult my article on Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms for some good guidelines. I won’t be held liable for any reader who poisons themselves.
Having said that, please enjoy wild mushrooms responsibly and I would encourage anyone to step out into the woods this weekend and discover what nature has to offer.
Wet and horrible today but I am hoping this weather will bring out the mushrooms and I’ll be able to visit a favourite spot for collecting saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus).
I love showing people these mushrooms and then declaring that they are not only edible but delicious. The way that they bleed bright orange is quite offputting for some and most people would instinctively think that this indicates that they are poisonous.
When foraging for mushrooms I would insist on this general advice:
Preferably go out with someone who knows what they are looking for who can show you the mushrooms in the field and talk you through or show you the inedible or poisonous look-alikes.
Invest in at least two books. Get one photographic field guide to carry with you and keep at home a large and thorough mycology book that will go into much greater detail. It is not likely that a field guide will show you everything you can find and you will need another book to double check identification. A photographic guide is very useful but you cannot depend only on outward appearances.
If in doubt about a specimen, take a few home and analyse them. Get a spore print at least and look it over very carefully before comitting to an identification, or show it to a friend who is more experienced.
Thankfully saffron milk caps are very distinctive and you can be pretty sure of them. The features to check for are the carroty orange colour and the concentric ring-like effect on the top of the cap. The cap margins are slightly rolled in. When fresh and cut they will bleed an orange milk and when bruised, the flesh and gills will turn blue. The gills are decurrent, which means they extend down the stem. Many people can also detect a slightly fruity, apricot smell to these mushrooms.
Look for them in pine woods where they will return frequently and you will be able to find them consistently from September onwards until late November. When picking mushrooms, use a knife to pare them off at the bottom of the stem, leaving the root in the ground as pulling them up will destroy the mushroom and spoil its chances of fruiting again. Remember most of a mushroom consists of tiny threads under the ground and what you are picking to eat is just the fruiting body.
With saffron milk caps you need to be out early before the critters get to them because they are loved by grubs, too. It is worth cutting the body in half when picking so you can see if there is any infestation that will show up as dark blue speckles and tunnels in the flesh. As the fruit bodies mature they will go pale and can get quite large but older specimens are certain to be full of grubs and virtually tasteless. You need young and firm specimens.
Not all milk caps are edible and be sure that you are not picking brown roll rims (Paxillus involutus) which look similar and also bleed although tending to be brown, or woolly milk caps (Lactarius torminosus) that are pink or red and have a woolly margin. Use identification guides and be sure.
These mushrooms keep their texture well when cooked and I just like to fry them with a bit of garlic infused olive oil, add them to a risotto or a mushroom salad.
Disclaimer:the author will not be held liable for any ill effects resulting from misidentification of mushrooms based on this post. Please take responsibility to get a positive and accurate identification before eating any wild picked mushrooms.
Vetch is beautiful, distinctive and abundant in our hedgerows at this time of year. I acquired a taste for this plant when I was about nine years old and chewing on it always takes me back to that time in my life when I would dawdle home from school and munch handfuls of the stuff.
Vetch belongs to the pea family and its flavour can be most likened to the sweetness of pea pods or sugar snap peas. There are several widespread varieties all of which are delicious and easily distinguished by their herring bone leaves, climbing stems and purple or pink pea-like flowers. This plant is one of my favourite wayside snacks. The stems are quite fiborous but the flowers and leaves make a great addition to any salad. We should have from late June to Early September to enjoy the flowers, after this it becomes a bit tougher and dies off.
You will be competing with horses for this one, too, they absolutely love it.