24 Nov 2010

La Saison des Champignons (Part 2)

I am neither a mushroom specialist nor an enthusiast and probably wouldn't give them a second thought if it weren't for the level of exposure they do get in the local press at this time of year, and my personal encounter with them on my current daily walks. Foraging for mushrooms is an important past-time activity for countryside Corsicans, on a par with game-hunting, fishing, wild asparagus and wild strawberry-plant fruit picking, and les oursinades (sea-urchin season).

Having said that, the only wild mushroom variety I have ever felt confident to pick and consume is the Coprin Chevelu (Shaggy Ink Cap, a.k.a. Coprinus comatus, pictured below). Its distinctive features (white in colour, oblong, narrow and contained in shape, turning ink-black as it ages, found in grass clearings (dappled light), in proximity to birch trees mainly), combined to the fact that it doesn't resemble any toxic or semi-toxic mushroom variety, make it a much safer option than other edible mushrooms that dangerously resemble deadly ones. However mycologists advise to only pick young coprinus (i.e. those white in colour) and that any coprinus-alcohol association should be avoided.

Coprinus used to grow in my parents' garden in St-Quentin and I happily picked them, scraped them lightly before thinly slicing and sautéing them in a non-stick pan, without any add-ons, simply au naturel. Wild mushrooms are more aromatic than the supermarket's cultivated white caps, and not as water-filled. It is likely that those who claim not to like mushrooms will have only ever tasted the cultivated varieties as opposed to the wild specimens.

I have read that once picked, mushrooms should be carefully laid in wicker baskets to allow them to breathe (no plastic bags, trays or buckets that encourage bruising and sweating). Also be sure to keep mushroom varieties separate from one other as a precaution, in order to prevent flavours from combining, and to avoid risks of potential cross-toxicity (that is if you are no mushroom expert, planning to take your findings to a specialist).

Now why not end this post with a practical (aren't I mean...)? Pictured in this 2-part article are some of the Corsican specimens I have stumbled across in my recent walks. Those of you expert mycologists who could shed some light as to the mushrooms' identity and edibility, are most welcome. Then I might nip back later for that mushroom omelette, that's of course if I get the all-clear from you guys!

Meanwhile let's delight our tastebuds with this small selection of mushroom-based recipes from four of our celebrated British TV chefs (I have made Delia's recipe as a dinner party starter):
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