Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mushroom Magic

It's raining. My fingers are so cold that one of them is aching and threatening to snap off. Wind howls through the trees above us. What the hell was I thinking? I pull the hood of my waterproof jacket tighter about my ears and gently toe at the dead leaves by the side of the walking track. Suddenly a shriek rents the air from further down the trail- and I break into a run... they've found some- Mushrooms!

It's an unexpectedly cold Sunday afternoon and I have left the comfort of my living-room to hunt for mushrooms in Victoria's Woodend. Why? 
Well, quite simply because I don't know a thing about them. I love to fry them up with some butter, garlic and a little bit of thyme for a weekend brekkie, but I wouldn't know the first thing about how to find them, much less identify them in the wild- and I am secretly a little jealous of those people who can tell a field mushroom from a death cap. So, with dreams of skipping through the country-side, basket in hand and plaits bobbing, I signed myself and 3 friends up for a Sunday of 'Exploring the Fungi Kingdom' with ecologist Alison Pouliot.
With the Autumn leaves putting on a show, we arrived at Woodend Community centre at 11am for a full day of mushie madness. From poisons specialists to permaculture enthusiasts and local foragers- there were about 20 of us in all, keen, excited and wrapped in wet weather gear.
From the start we were hit with the vast variety of Australian and introduced fungi. 
Yellow stainers, milk caps, blue meanies (yes we know that means magic), corals and jellies, field and pine- 5 hours was simply not long enough to learn all that Alison had to share with us. 
I scribbled notes till I ran out of paper and then I took photos till I ran out of film. Oh what a silly girl am I, hoping that I could just take some notes and then forgae for my dinner... it's not that simple. 
So whilst I think I can identify a magic mushroom now (and I add even if this were true that I'd be pretty stupid to test the theory), I learned plenty that was far more fascinating than that. 
For a start, in countries like Switzerland where they have been collecting mushrooms from the wild for generations, people who learn from childhood what to look for still have to go through the 'mushroom police' to make sure they have not taken deadly or endangered species. The M-police also record the numbers and types of fungi in any given area, and this has been going on for generations. That's hundreds of years of detailed fungi records.

By contrast, in Australia we have only been recording our fungi for around 16 years, hmmm. 
In addition to these limited records, we have possibly 25,000 species due to our diverse habitats, most of which have not been studied in depth or possibly even named. 
So much fungi and so little time. And that's a lot of native fungi that we know nothing about that I just got mixed up with magic mushrooms... 
So after scrubbing around in the moss, mould and rain, peering under caps with hand held mirrors to identify gill and spore colour and feeling more and more like Alice down the rabbit hole every second, I learned this- I have a lot of work to do when it comes to foraging for my dinner, and I won't be going without a mushroom guide anytime soon. One side might 'make you grow taller', but the other-side could give you kidney failure.

Note: in Victoria you require a parks permit to forage for mushrooms. 


Katherine said...

So so glad you did this Jane!! This was the one I was texting you about!! Sounds fabulous! (and freezing!!) once we move up there you'll have to tell us what we can eat in our backyard!! ha ha!! :o)

Anonymous said...

I visied a friend last year & was served beutiful mushroom soup (home made ) with crusty bread & it
sent me off in a whirl to find recipees & you have again revived that sensation .