Now I am hardly Ray Mears or Bear Grylls. For a start I cannot stand mud in my tent, whereas I am sure neither Bear or Ray lose any sleep over a squelchy ground sheet. But in the interests of sustainable living and maintaining the pretext of an alpha male who is at home in the great outdoors, I’m keen to start foraging more of my food. And with the winter turning out more mild than usual, it’s a great time to harvest one of the most abundant of natural foods: the wild mushroom!
Now – I hear you saying – aren’t mushrooms stupidly dangerous to pick if you’re a novice like me; Let alone a completely deluded city-living softie that can’t even light a fire without matches or petrol. Well, yes they are. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t know your Chanterelles from your Death Caps (the clue is in the title) then foraging for mushrooms can be like playing with fire – once you’ve managed to light it that is. But don’t stop reading quite yet…
Still there? Good. Because Hedgehog mushrooms are a god-send for the novice forager. They are common and very easy to identify. The perfect time of the year to find this yummy mushroom is between September and December. Just make sure you get out to forage before the first heavy frost settles. Because mushrooms don’t like frost and neither do forager’s fingers. Unfortunately, the weather this year seems to have been even worse for the mushrooms than it was for us. Long wet spells followed by equally long dry spells means the quantity has not matched the bountiful harvest of previous years.
But there are still a few healthy patches out there. Here’s my five tips for picking a non-toxic mushroom that will make a tasty treat in any meal:
1. Don’t pick any mushrooms unless you’re completely certain they are safe. The best way to learn (and avoid a toxic dinner) is to go foraging with someone experienced that knows mushrooms really well and I find that if they’re still breathing, they probably know their stuff!
2. Much like the Death Cap, the name of this mushroom is a big clue. Unlike other mushrooms, Hedgehogs have spines underneath their caps rather than gills, pores or ‘spongy stuff’. The spines should be soft to the touch and a pale colour that closely resembles the stalk and cap colour.
3. There’s no point looking for actual Hedgehogs during the day is there? So don’t waste your time in the fields. If you want to find Hedgehog Mushrooms, then head for the trees. Grassy or mossy areas are best. You can find them in deciduous or coniferous woodland. The caps become harder to spot once the leaves have fallen in later months but Hedgehogs are paler than most autumn foliage.
4. The colour is also the final safety precaution. Other ‘tooth fungi’ are less common than the Hedgehog variety and most are still edible (though I am told not as tasty). But only pick pale mushrooms with caps that are white, beige or a caramel leather texture. The stalk should resemble the colour of the irregular shaped cap. If there’s any sign of green or burnt hues, best give the mushroom a miss. Better to be safe than sorry.
5. And last but not least… Definitely do not pick that mushroom unless you are completely certain it’s not toxic.
If you follow all these tips and have the patience to find a good spot then you will soon fill your pockets with this fantastic wild mushroom. Now all that’s left, is to cook your meal. Where’s Ray Mears when you need him…