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Still Here – But Only Just!

1st of November 2008

Autumn, a time of mists and mellow fruitfulness, ripe apples, and mushrooms. I love all the changes of season, all for different reasons, and picking apples, mushrooms and other fungi help to make up for the shortening days. I wish I knew more about fungi in general, but I do love mushrooming. We never had that many on the farm but we usually knew someone that did, and could set off with a basket and collect a feast. I have been doing it since childhood so when we came across some nice new-looking ones on a walk with Ted, our dog, I had no hesitation in picking them. They were white and clean with nice pink gills, in perfect condition. Just right with bacon and eggs for supper. And yet there was something in the back of my mind that made be get the fungi book out before I started to cook them, just to check. Yes, they had a ring up the stem and the gills were the right shape and colour. On went the frying pan and in they went. Just as they started to cook they took on a yellowy appearance. I began to turn the pages of the fungi book. The smell coming from the pan was not mushrooms but printers ink! A few pages on from Field Mushrooms were Yellow Stainers – Poisonous. The picture in the book was just like the Field Mushroom, but it showed yellow staining at the base and the write-up mentioned the smell of ink. Mine, cooking in the pan, had now lost all traces of yellow, but there was no lovely black juice to fry the bread in and the smell of printers ink was even stronger. I decided to try a little bit. It was quite bitter and I quickly spat it out. It was not the supper I had been hoping for, just bacon and eggs, but we lived to tell the tale! A few days later, one of the week-end papers mentioned the Yellow Stainer, Agaricus Xanthodermus, as being responsible for more poison cases than any other fungi because is looks so like a normal Field Mushroom. The way to tell, and the safest way to pick all fungi, is to make sure you take the base of the stem as this is where the yellow mostly comes from and is often the only way to tell the different types apart. Any sign of yellow and do not eat it. This won’t stop me from picking and eating mushrooms in future, but it might have done! Wendy Bathurst

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