I, along with many people, find wild mushrooms absolutely fascinating, more so than plants. I think it’s because you could walk the same route every day for a year and suddenly, out of the blue, there’s a huge patch of mushrooms where you’ve never seen them before. It’s like magic – where on earth have they appeared from, what are they, I wonder if I can eat them, they look delicious.
It turns out the thing that makes them magical is what makes them eve ore difficult to identify. With plants we can view them throughout the year and throughout the seasons. On this same walk we’ve taken every day for a year I’ve walked past a patch of nettles everyday – so I’ve become very well accustomed to how they appear and how they look. Whereas these mushrooms have just appeared, I have somewhere between 2-10 days to figure out what it is and get familiar with it. This makes our job as mushroom hunters a lot more difficult.
There is a couple of great tricks to identifying wild mushrooms – especially from a wild food or foraging perspective, as you get a little more confident you can start to bend and break some of the rules that guaranteed your safety as a beginner, but by this stage you should be getting very confident with mushroom features you are looking out for. I will discuss these features in more depth in another blog post called – Identifying Wild Mushrooms.
For now I will talk about a couple of my favourite wild edible mushrooms – in order of my favourite:
Cep, Porcini or Penny Bun
This is a classic mushroom and I kind of wish I had a more obscure fungi as my favourite, but this one really does get its praise for a reason. If you were to buy these in the shops, if it’s labelled dried porcini then it definitely is only porcini, however if it’s labelled dried ceps then actually you could be eating any edible mushroom from the family of boletes, which we will talk a little more on in y boletes blog post – but up here I would also include mushrooms such as Orange and brown birch boletes.
The reason the cep or penny bun is my favourite wild mushroom is because:
- It’s a good size – it’s actually worth picking, one mushroom can often feed two people
- It’s chunky – no parts of the mushroom are hollow
- It cooks well – if you get your frying pan really hot before adding the mushroom it will crisp nicely instead of dropping all of its water like you sometimes see when cooking mushrooms
- It tastes amazing! – It has a strong mushroom flavour with undertones of nuttiness; it can simply make a simple dish like a risotto or pasta taste amazing.
For more information on how to identify the penny bun click here
For more information on what to cook with the porcini click here
Scarlet Elf Cap
This may seem a bit out there to have the scarlet elf cap so high up on this list since it doesn’t actually have much flavour, but what it lacks in flavour in makes up for, in masses, in its look. The main reasons I like the Scarlet Elf cap are:
- It has a vibrant pink/red colour which doesn’t diss colour on cooking
- It grows in a cup shape so you can fill it easily with exciting liquids like elderberry port
- It grows at a time of year when there’s very few other fungi around
- It easy to find, due to its bright red colour it’s actually very easy to find as it literally stands out like a sore thumb.
When it comes to cooking I add this little gem in to loads of things, my favourite is to salt pickle it and add it raw on top of other cooked foods – it can literally go on top of anything savoury – it will bring a boost of colour to the dish and really finishes off a course. Similarly it can be candied and used in the exact same way but on top of desserts.
For more information on how to identify the Scarlet Elf cap click here
For more information on what to cook with the scarlet elf cap click here
Again this one may seem a little strange to be so high up on the list – most people regard this mushroom as edible but don’t do a vast amount of cooking with it. I can see why when most references of its use within western cooking see it used for thickening soups – do not thicken soups with this mushroom unless you enjoy eating something that has the texture of wall paper paste. However when you start adding it to stir fry, wontons and both fried or fresh spring rolls it really starts to come in to its own. The reasons I like this mushroom are:
- It’s very easy to identify – if you can identify an elder tree you are certain to be able to find this mushroom as the mushrooms almost always grows on the wood of elder
- It can dehydrate and rehydrate perfectly – making it easy to store and allowing you to play around with is as a food
- It can be used in savoury and sweet food
- It can be found growing in abundance
From a food perspective I often dehydrate the majority of these mushrooms as and when I find them, when it comes to cooking I slice them finely and add them in to stir fry’s, inside wontons, and in both fresh and fried spring rolls. What has pulled this mushroom so far up this list is because you can make amazing sweets out of it. Simply rehydrate it in something flavoured like orange liquor, then freeze it, dip it in melted chocolate and serve on top of desserts. MADNESS – Orange liquor flavoured, frozen chocolate mushroom.
For more information on how to identify jelly ear mushrooms click here
For more information on what to cook with jelly ear mushrooms click here
Chanterelle and Winter Chanterelle
I probably shouldn’t have grouped both the chanterelle and the winter chanterelle together but I have – they’re here and on a par for me for different reasons. The chanterelle is here because it has the best flavour of the two whereas the winter chanterelle is here because it grows after frosts giving me a flavoursome mushroom later in the year. If anyone is looking specifically for chanterelles and keeps thinking – I’m just never going to find any. I thought the exact same thing when I was looking for them around all the woods I could think of in Cheshire. Simply take a trip to Scotland and your luck will change quite quickly – they’re everywhere. On a 3 week trip to Scotland I found them on the first day and most days after. The main reason I like these mushrooms are:
- They’re easy to identify – since they don’t have true gills, they have folds, looking a little like a raison this puts you straight to this family of mushrooms.
- They usually grow in substantial amounts
- They taste AMAZING
For more information on how to identify chanterelle click here and winter chanterelle click here
For more information on what to cook with chanterelle click here and winter chanterelle click here
Chicken of the Woods
Although Chicken of the woods isn’t for everyone (it will give some people an upset stomach) I really enjoy eating it. My no1 favourite way to enjoy chicken of the woods is simply fried with bacon lardons, then serves in a Caesar style salad – simple and tasty. But a recipe I’ve also come up with gives us a way to use chicken of the woods even when it’s a little too old for enjoyed fried off and that’s chicken of the woods pate. The main reasons I like this mushroom:
- When you find one you really do find one – usually around 2-4kg
- It can be used when young and old
- It’s probably the easiest mushroom ever to identify
For more information on how to identify chicken of the woods click here
For more information on what to cook with chicken of the woods click here
So that’s it my short list of edible Wild Mushrooms – of course there’s plenty more out there so why not check out our foraging fungi section to get some key identification features for your next mushroom forage.