I’ve always enjoyed the process of growing or collecting my own food, whether that’s tomatoes, apples, other vegetables or even rabbits from the garden, but one thing I’d never explored was mushroom picking. It’s always seemed complex, risky and something people always have horror stories about. However in recent years we’ve gone out as a family with my father in law while visiting Poland, where this is much more common to the point where at the right time of year, everyone is out at their favourite patch. During these trips I learnt that while mushrooms are complex (There are roughly 15,000 species of fungi in the UK!), it’s possible to learn while being careful what can be taken safely, but more importantly I learnt that the process/experience is just as enjoyable as the eating.
I always feel any time spent out in the woods is good time, and if you couple that with the anticipation you may find a prize hoard of edibles (or equally may not) then the buzz is similar to that of getting out with the camera in the hunt for that early morning red stag photo. Note I said similar, not the same, but it does come with some advantages. Firstly, mushrooms don’t run off and you don’t need the right light to find them, which makes it a perfect activity with the whole family as neither timing or noise matters as much (although the right weather is needed). Which is one of the things that made me want to get out there and try this out, as it became pretty clear while out in Poland that this is an activity of tradition. Not only can you serve the practical purpose of gathering something to eat, but it’s also something that the family can do together. Having seen how knowledgeable my father in law is on this I realised I had a lot to learn before I could take on a similar role in our household. Fortunately I have a fantastic wife who noticed I’d started to pick up an interest in actually learning more about this and so she booked me on a day trip with an expert to learn more as a birthday treat (either that or she wanted me out the house for a bit).
The foraging experience was booked with a company called ‘The Mushroom Table’ (https://www.mushroomtable.com/), and while this isn’t a review of the day it’s impossible to talk about how I started foraging myself without talking about the experience day. It can undoubtedly be daunting thinking about collecting something to eat when you’ve heard about how poisonous some mushrooms are which is exactly why this sort of experience day is invaluable. Having an expert guide you round the woods showing you what is, and more importantly what isn’t safe is a real eye opener. I’d not gone into it without a little knowledge and having someone to confirm what you do know is a confidence builder. But one thing is for certain is that the diversity of what’s out there requires a library of knowledge alone, and the knowledge of the instructor was truly amazing (not just edibility, but also the biology of fungi). On the day we spent some time out foraging followed by lunch and then looking at all the species collected by everyone in a class room. Overall, this day gave a real head start into foraging and the confidence to collect some of my own. Importantly though, one of the best bits of advice was to start small, only collect what you’re 100% sure of and build up the knowledge over time.
Since going on the course I’m now confident to at least know when I’m sure of a few species, and have enough knowledge to know when I’m not (and then avoid). Personally I’ve focused on the Boletes, there seems to be less scope for confusion with the bad ones, but don’t take that as advice, the only advice on this page is to learn from an expert. This past season we’ve had a few days out as a family on the hunt for mushrooms, which combining with a picnic has made a fun day out for the kids, and now my daughter loves to point out every time she sees something, especially the fairy tale Fly Agaric! We even managed to make a short video of one trip out in Thetford Forest. So even if you’re not a big mushroom fan, or not confident to collect I still recommend getting out there in the woods for a mushroom hunt. You never know how many species you’ll see.