THE R E V D . A R T H U R P . W A L L E R ,
time to time we read in the papers of tragic occurrences arising from the consumption of poisonous fungi; and during the past season fungi have been most prolific, owing to the abundance of moisture in all kinds of plants, with the result that a good many fatalities have taken place in or upon the borders of our County. The deaths of several young girl Guides this year, through eating a poisonous kind of Amanita, have aroused the public to an appreciation of the danger lurking in the indiscriminate collection of doubtful Mushrooms. Naturally, hence prejudice is liable to be engendered against much savoury and wholesome food that is liberally provided each year in our woods and pastures, needingonly to be pickedwith alittle sound rudimentary knowledge and discretion. FROM
Mushrooms and Toadstools are the two divisions, roughly made by the average man, of the gigantic tribe of Fungi: Mushrooms, he will teil us, are edible and Toadstools are poisonous. Yet many kinds, very generally relegated to the latter division, may be eaten and enjoyed with impunity ; when the main characteristics of ' toadstools ' have once been mastered, they can be recognised at a glance and far less discrimination is needed than when gathering a basketful of Agaricus campestris, Linn., our well-known edible Mushroom. It is difficult to understand why the Italians, the most extensive fungus-eaters in Europe, have such an antipathy to our Mushroom ; and the sole inference seems to be that greater care is necessary in its collection. Here is an extract from old regulations dealing with Fungi in the open market at Rome : â€” " That the stale funguses of the previous day as well as the mouldy, bruised, maggoty or dangerous kinds, together with any specimen of the common mushroom (A. campestris), be sent under escort and thrown into the Tiber." Strange, indeed, is it that the one Fungus which we in England eat most freely, leaving many others untouched, should have such a ban upon it. Still, as Dr. Badham in his treatise on the Esculent Fungi of England says, " No fungus presents itself under such a variety of forms, of such singular diversities of aspect; " yet he adds that " out of the pickings of ten thousand hands, a mistake is of rare occurrence." Considering the enormous consumption, the percentage is very small; and we may continue to enjoy A. campestris without apprehending bad results : certainly I have no wish to depreciate our favourite. My object in this paper is, rather, to suggest a Variation of dishes and to draw attention to a few of the ' toadstools ' that are easily determined, are excellent eating and, when once known, cannot readily be mistaken. Thus it is hoped that
interest may be aroused, and further investigation made, among the numerous species which go to waste every year. Foremost I would place Agaricus procerus, Scop., most excellent of all the esculent tribe. It grows in hedges, on waste pastures and sometimes in woods. Its points are the umbo, which forms the top of the stalk, and the stalk therefore can be pulled out leaving a hole through the pileus ; the flesh of the pileus does not turn red when bruised ; the stem is always marked with snake-like scales, hence it is sometimes called Colubrinus, but usually the Parasole Mushroom. A close ally, the Rachodes, is not quite so palatable but well worth cooking. This species has no snaky scales or umbo and the gills do turn red when bruised; the whole plant, when cut, becomes dark orange or rust-colour. Agaricus deliciosus, Linn., well deserves its name : it is delicious and grows under pine-trees, but must not be confused with A. torminosus, Schaff. Both sorts have appeared in my meadow under firs this year. The distinct points seem to be that, while the milk of the former is red and when cut turns green, the milk of the latter is white and unchangeable. I can understand the tyro taking A. torminosus and rejecting the poisonous-looking but wholesome A. deliciosus. Boletus edulis, Bul., is considered by many to be only moderately good eating ; yet the Romans valued it as an article of diet and, apart from their partiality for Snails (Helix pomatia, Linn.), Goat-moth caterpillars (Cossus ligniperda, Fab.) and similar savoury morsels, they were not bad judges of dainties. I call it decidedly good, but uncommon in east Suffolk where only occasional specimens are found. It has a smooth brownish pileus, with tubes at first yellowish but becoming green with age, the stem reticulated towards its summit and covered with a delicate pinkish network; only young specimens should be eaten ; it usually grows under oaks and some other trees. Badham says this kind cannot be mistaken for any other of the genus, because it alone has these points " united:â€”a cap of which the surface is smooth ; tubes the colour of which varies with each period of its growth ; beautiful and Singular reticulations of the stalk, especially towards the upper portion ; and a flesh which is white and unchanging." Agaricus oreades, Botl., is the well-known Champignon, of course, whose fairy rings are a frequent sight in our pastures and commons. Old superstition long attributed these rings to ' The nimble elves That do by moonshine green sour ringlets make Whereof the ewe bites not : whose pastime 'tis To make these midnight Mushrooms.'
But in our prosaic days a more scientific origin of these rings is sought than dancing-grounds of Fairy-folk. Though so common, cooked A. oreades are luxurious, and it is often thought the prime Fungus ; personally I can vouch for its excellence as an
131 EDIBLE FUNGI. appetiser when pickled. For that maker of fairy-rings might possibly be mistaken A. dryophilus, Bul., but the latter is distinguished with certainty by its closegills, by the piped stem and reddened swollen base, for in the former the stem is solid and gills wide apart. A. (Hygrophorus) virgineus, Wulf, is another delicatelyflavouredlittle Fungus that is found. in situations like those of the fairy-rings ; it is commonly known as Ivory Caps, and may be stewed in milk or a better way is like ordinary Mushrooms. Its principal point lies in the waxy character of the hymenium, or spore-bearing surface. Many of the Puff Balls are edible, but the giant of the group, Lycoperdon giganteum, Bats., is by far the best: when cut in slices and fried with egg and bread-crumbs it eats like an omelette. The advantage of this Fungus is that one may cut a slice from it for the day's needs and obtain a fresh supply, day by day, as is required. Sometimes it grows to enormous size : during the recent war I remember my children running in greatly excited, exclaiming that a bomb was in the garden ; which bomb, after most judicious inspection, turned into an exceptionally large specimen, hoary with age, sprung up among potatoes. If the flesh show at all yellow, its gastronomic qualites should be regarded with suspicion. I will include afinalspecies, as it is of peculiar interest on account of its likeness to liver or meat in both appearance and culinary uses. Fistulina hepatica, Fries., is sometimes called the Liver of the Oak or Poor-man's Fungus, SchĂ¤ffer's fungus pauperibus esculentus. It yields a rieh gravy and, when grilled, is similar to broiled meat; but I must confess I have found it rather tough eating, nor is it abundant in this district for I have met with it, like B. edtdis, only occasionally. This autumn I saw afineexample on an oak that was growing upon the site of the ancient Quay at Frostenden : perhaps it was already accounted a delicacy among the Anglo-Danes of the eleventh Century. The edible Fungi of England afford a widefieldof interest; I believe there are forty orfiftyentirely wholesome species, of which a large proportion, certainly including all the aboveenumerated, are found in our County. They provide many tasty dishes and, when their characteristics have once been grasped, many are quite easily recognised. Yet two points should be emphasised : All Fungi must be gathered while young and eaten fresh, since a mere few hours sometimes make all the difference between wholesomeness and the reverse. Fungi have properties similar to those of meat, and quickly become tainted ; more ill results arise from their bad condition than from mistaking poisonous sorts. If we eliminate the strĂ¤nge ban on Agaricus campestris, the above Italiaii order shows a wise understanding in its provision that all stale and otherwise unhealthy plants be hurled into Father Tiber.