GIVING A FIG Much easier to forage for recently have been the figs a client has kindly asked me to help myself to from his garden. They are also in abundance this year and the tree grows happily high on the side of a mountain, although slightly protected by the stone pine end of an adjacent barn.
People seem to think figs are exotic and hard to grow but they are reassuringly unfussy. They just need a good sunny position, some food, water and shelter. Not unlike myself.
I have to be honest, other than a good prune in the spring to keep the centre of it open, I leave my client's fig tree to its own devices. If you're not quite as confident, they do enjoy regular watering during the growing season, especially while the fruits are forming and swelling and a potash feed, such as tomato fertilizer, will be appreciated at this time too. And they need sunshine for the fruits to ripen.
A limited number of fig varieties are reliable in the UK but these are readily available and are prolific fruiters. I would choose Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey' as I think it is the most successful in the Welsh climate. It is a reliable mid-season tree and produces dark-skinned fruits, which have deep red flesh - and are delicious (see pic). The Ficus carica 'Brunswick' is also extremely hardy.
NOT MUSHROOM FOR ERROR I have always been very suspicious of all wild mushrooms as dad used to have a very bad reaction to fresh field mushrooms. Far from deterring him, his endless trek to the toilet deterred me from picking and eating wild mushrooms for years.
With the help of a few expert fungi foragers, I have become more confident in identifying several mushrooms that are safe to eat, but don't be misled, some people are also allergic to the edible field and horse mushrooms.
One of the most important things I remember from fungi forays is the alarming similarity of three particular white capped mushrooms. The edible, and popular, field and horse mushroom, and the poisonous yellow stainer. And even more alarming is the fact that white mushrooms are responsible for the majority of mushroom poisonings around the world.
There are obvious similarities between the horse and field mushroom and the yellow stainer - they mostly all have a skirt on the stem, which can remain attached to the cap until the mushroom is quite mature; they have stout, fleshy, solid stems, the white cap is be fairly smooth and both may discolour when bruised or cut. And perhaps the most misleading aspect is that they all start with pink gills which darken to brown in maturity.
These 'agaric' mushrooms look very much like the Button Mushrooms that you buy in shops and supermarkets because the shop-bought mushrooms are cultivated and farmed versions of one member of the wild agaric family. But some of the agarics that you find growing wild - and in fields, just to confuse things further with the field mushroom - are toxic.
The field mushroom, Agaricus campestris, is the most commonly eaten wild mushroom in Britain. Its species name campestris is derived from the Latin word campus, which means "field", and it is found most commonly in meadows grazed by horses, cattle or sheep. It appears in fields and grassy areas after rain from late summer through autumn and is prolific locally at the moment. I picked the ones in the photo from a client's garden - and without a container to put them in!
Though not deadly, the yellow stainer can make you very ill. Its name does suggest the method for identifying it, though. Once bruised, or cut, it will bruise bright yellow in the affected areas.
Cutting a mushroom will enhance the smell. A smell of aniseed is good as it means you have a horse mushroom or a wood mushroom. A pleasant mushroomy smell probably means you have a field mushroom.
But if you get an unpleasant, carbolic, chemically or inky smell, this would indicate one of the poisonous members of the family, although this rule only applies to agarics (including the yellow stainer).
DEADLY SERIOUS As well as exciting edibles, there are several deadly deceivers to be aware of too. Although confusingly there is a mushroom called the Deceiver which is edible.
The Destroying Angel, which is related to the Death Cap, is among the most toxic of the mushrooms and also easily mistaken for button mushrooms or young horse mushrooms. Another prolific and enticing con-mushroom is the Sulphur Tuft which if eaten will make you quite ill.
It appears it is a mushroom minefield out there. So the moral of this column is that there is tremendous pleasure to be had by fungi foraging but you do have to know your mushrooms.
Find out more about Lynne at www.lynneallbutt.co.uk