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The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE -

If you’re a fan of funghi, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s peak mush­room hunt­ing sea­son. Edi­ble mush­rooms can be picked in all cor­ners of the coun­try, ready to be thrown into a pan of but­ter and thyme and served on toast.

Cau­tion is ad­vised, how­ever, when it comes to mush­rooms. While many mush­rooms are safely edi­ble and can let you tap into the mag­i­cally earthy taste of au­tumn, there are a few nasty va­ri­eties out there that can make peo­ple se­ri­ously ill. There are some that are fa­tal for the eater. So, how can you tell if a mush­room is a friend or a foe?

Bill O’Dea is a my­cophag­ist – oth­er­wise known as a per­son highly in­ter­ested in edi­ble funghi. O’Dea runs mush­room hunts in the au­tumn months and helps his at­ten­dees to de­ci­pher be­tween the good, the bad and the poi­sonous. “In Ire­land, we’re a funghipho­bic so­ci­ety,” says O’Dea, in ref­er­ence to peo­ple’s cau­tion around pick­ing wild mush­rooms.

Whereas other Eu­ro­pean na­tions re­ally cel­e­brate mush­rooms and know all the plea­sures of eat­ing them in sea­son, says O’Dea, we seem to have in­her­ited a fear of wild mush­rooms from our an­ces­tors. O’Dea en­cour­ages cau­tion but he puts the fun back into mush­room hunt­ing by pro­mot­ing clear guid­ance and spe­cialised knowl­edge. “When it comes to mush­rooms,” he says, “you want to keep your friends close and your foes closer. Be­fore you head out for­ag­ing, learn all you can about the friend­lier mush­rooms. Study them un­til you know ex­actly what you’re look­ing for.” O’Dea rec­om­mends va­ri­eties such as cep, chanterelle, para­sol and puff balls as be­ing great com­mon eaters and rel­a­tively easy to get to know and to iden­tify by their ap­pear­ance.

On the flip­side, arm your­self with knowl­edge by fa­mil­iaris­ing your­self with the highly toxic mush­rooms, says O’Dea. He notes poi­sonous aman­i­tas, poi­son pie, fu­neral bells and the yel­low stainer as com­mon mush­rooms that make peo­ple sick – or worse.

The best way to in­tro­duce your­self to the won­ders of mush­room for­ag­ing is un­doubt­edly head­ing out with an ex­pert. There are mush­room- for­ag­ing guides all over the coun­try who can guide you through the ex­pe­ri­ence and give you con­fi­dence in your own knowl­edge and in­stincts around mush­room for­ag­ing. Al­ter­na­tively, an il­lus­trated guide such as Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Com­plete Field Guide to the Mush­rooms & Toad­stools of Bri­tain & Ire­land by Stefan Bucza­cki, Chris Shields and Denys Oven­den gives a good in­di­ca­tion of what to eat and what to avoid.

Aoife McEl­wain

Mag­a­zine Oc­to­ber 6, 2018

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