Most of the world’s edible species grow in abundance in Britain’s mild, wet, climate. This is fortunate, for very few can be cultivated and thus they can only be gathered as a wild crop. Despite this, as a nation we seem terrified by the mere thought of picking and eating a wild ‘toadstool’.
In contrast, Continental chefs have long-appreciated the superb cooking qualities of life’s third ‘kingdom’. Just as they have developed mouth-watering ways to process animal protein and succulent plants, so they relish the exquisite tastes of the annual fungal bonanza. But while residents of Paris, Rome and Warsaw flock to the fields and woods every autumn in search of this gastronomic treasure trove, it is a brave Briton who reaches for the pack of dried porcini on the supermarket shelf, let alone hunts for themselves. We seem to feel that unless a mushroom is wrapped in clingfilm, it is no more than a shortcut to the morgue.
This is a gastronomic tragedy. From April to December there is a constant supply of delicious wild mushrooms to be had for the picking. Starting with St George’s and morels in spring; the excitement builds with chanterelles and chicken of the woods (July); to peak with porcini and bay boletes (Sept/Oct); ending with wood blewits (Nov) and velvet shanks (Dec/Jan). Sadly, as a nation we leave this bonanza to rot in the fields, turning our noses up at some of the most delicious and expensive flavours known to man.