My passion for wild mushrooms is a fairly recent thing and indeed even ordinary mushrooms are a bit of an acquired taste. The slimy texture, the earthy flavour – it’s kind of a grown-up thing. But my youthful aversion to wild mushroom stems from prolonged exposure to all manner of festering fungi, collected and laid out in our garage for god only knows what purpose, by my parents. Both keen mycologists (mushroom-fanciers, fact fans), their weekends (and mine) from September to Christmas, were spent tramping around damp woods looking for wild mushrooms, heads down, knife in hand.

In retrospect, of course, it’s kind of cool and they were clearly way ahead of the current trend of locally sourced, home grown and foraged food, but at the time, it was just kind of embarrassing. Visiting friends would recoil in horror from the unsettling fungal displays on show and any supper involving mushrooms was a bit fraught. Me: “What is it, Mum?” Mum: “I think it’s either a really nice edible mushroom, or possibly a death cap. They look almost identical, you know.”

Still no-one ever died, so I guess they knew what they were talking about. After 10 years of attending evening classes on the subject, you’d hope so. My mum still gets twitchy as soon as the days draw in a bit and a rainy September has her dusting down her special mushrooming basket and knife and heading out to any number of secret locations in search of edible fungal treats. In Europe, this would be perfectly normal behaviour where learning about and gathering wild mushrooms is part of the culture. In the UK, it’s not so common or so easy.

With thousands of species growing wild in British woodland, and a fair few of them poisonous, amateur mushroom hunting isn’t a pastime to be undertaken lightly, at least not without a good bit of expertise and a local guide. Luckily, I’ve got my Mum and she’s itching to get out her special basket, so we head off to some local National Trust woodland for a crack at finding some early season fungi. We’re looking for Boletus Edulis, also known as Cepes or Porcini, and if we’re really lucky, a few parasol mushrooms.

I’m surprised that such easily accessible woodland is likely to yield much in the way of mushrooms, but it’s an ancient woodland with the kind of mix of deciduous trees, scrubby undergrowth and grassy areas that wild mushrooms seem to like. We spot something brown and mushroom-like almost immediately. Mum confidently identifies it as an Amanita, characterised by a big sac at its base. It’s also poisonous. Good-o. So that’s what the knife is for. Mum tells me never to just pick a mushroom by the stem, but to dig up the base too, where some of the most important characteristics can be found when it comes to identification.


A few steps away, there are some beautiful pink mushrooms. They look delicious, but no, they are Amanitas too, although they look completely different. Apparently, there are hundreds of varieties of this one species and dozens of different shapes and colours, which explains what my parents were doing for ten years. We spend a pleasant hour or so collecting Amanitas of different hues, but there’s nothing edible to be found. My girls love hunting for mushrooms with granny, so if nothing else, we’ve had a satisfying stroll through some lovely woodland. To be honest, they are perfectly happy gathering autumn leaves, acorns and conkers too.


But a pleasant stroll with nothing to show for it isn’t enough for a mushroom-obsessive. As soon as we’re back in the car, Mum starts muttering about “this little place I know” and “last year we found a stand of cepes at XXX location”. That’s right, I’m not allowed to tell you. We head off to the mystery spot, but we can’t really find it, because there’s a big fence in the way and it looks like private land. I’m pretty sure Mum wouldn’t trespass for the sake of a mushroom or two, would she? No comment, and anyway, the junior members of the hunting party are moaning a bit now, so we will never know just what lengths she’d go to for a nice bit of porcini.

Two weeks and six inches of rain later and we’re back in the same spot. It’s a gorgeous day, but the woods are damp and a bit boggy. Perfect. First into the basket, some pretty little purple Lacaria Amethystea, or Amethyst Deceiver – they’re edible! Mum spots the next edible fungus. Growing out of a fallen tree, is something that looks just like a cauliflower. It’s Sporassis Crispa or Cauliflower Fungus, edible when young and fresh. It doesn’t look that young or fresh to me, but Mum is determined to eat it because she’s never found one before in 20 years’ of mushroom hunting.

And finally, I spot a couple of Boletus. They’re not Cepes, but they’re a close cousin, the Boletus Badius, widely reckoned to be just as delicious. We dig up it up and look at the underside of the cap. A porous yellow surface, rather than gills, which tells Mum she’s correctly identified it. If it did have gills, she tells me, it could easily be an Amanita Phalloides or Death Cap, the most deadly fungus to be found in the British Isles, with no known antidote. And this is the trouble with wild mushrooms – there are so many varieties and the differences between delicious and deadly are really hard to spot unless you know just what you’re looking for.

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Back at home, I slice up my wild mushrooms and serve them to my husband for breakfast. Nothing happens apart from him declaring them delicious. Well done, Mum. I’m off out to buy my own special basket and knife.


[stextbox id=”tmk-box”]For more information about foraging for wild mushrooms, pop along to and keep an eye out for residential foraging courses coming up soon at our friends, Luxury Family Hotels.[/stextbox]