I am very partial to mushrooms, but I’m hopeless at finding them – at least the edible variety. This year is a mushroom year. Something about the climatic conditions – a damp September? – has had them popping out of the ground in places they don’t normally grow. Unfortunately, by the time I get there, they are past their best. And countless people are poisoned in France every year by the wrong sort of mushroom.
This week’s Connexion email newsletter said that nearly 1,200 cases of mushroom poisoning had been reported in the three months to October. And serious cases are 50% higher than normal. More mushrooms I suppose means more risk of poisoning. And this is an occupational hazard of the season – rather like the numbers of people who are shot by hunters when mistaken for game.
Mushroom hunting is a favourite sport in rural France. The only equipment you need is a basket, a stout stick and a nose for finding them. The basket is important. You often see people emerging furtively from local woodland bearing bulging plastic bags. This, apparently, is wrong. A basket with an open weave allows the mushroom spores to filter through and start the cycle again. The stick is useful for parting the undergrowth in search of the earthy treasures – or for fending off rival mushroom-hunters, or maybe shirty landowners laying claim to their own fungi.
Some species of mushroom, such as cèpes and girolles (the orange, pleated mushrooms) can be very expensive on the market stalls, and so it’s not surprising that people prefer to pick their own. They are easily identified, although some varieties of them are less palatable than others.
The trouble starts when a toxic mushroom closely resembles an edible one. I like field mushrooms, or rosés des près, as the French call them, which grow as large as plates. They are delicious simply sliced and fried in butter with garlic and parsley. The problem is that another variety of mushroom looks rather like them and is mortel.
This is where the pharmacie comes in – but before, rather than after, you’ve eaten them. Pharmacists in France are trained to identify mushrooms and, most important, to distinguish good ones from bad ones. I have to say, I have never seen anyone availing themselves of this service in our local pharmacie.
If you feel ill after eating mushrooms in France, call the medical emergency services on 15. Ten anti-poison centres also exist in France.
Food without fear
Assuming that your mushrooms have been expertly identified and you can eat them without fear, here are some easy ways of using them:
- Cèpes are delicious sliced and added to fried potatoes for the final 5 minutes or so of cooking, along with a couple of chopped garlic cloves. Sprinkle with parsley at the end.
- Large-cap mushrooms can be stuffed with a mixture of lardons (chopped bacon), onions, garlic, cream cheese and breadcrumbs and baked in the oven for about 30 minutes at 180C. Serve with crusty bread and salad.
- Add cèpes or girolles to a risotto just before starting the process of adding liquid.
- Chop and fry your favourite variety of mushroom with onions and garlic, add a little chicken stock and cream and serve on toast, sprinkled with chopped parsley. This also makes a good sauce for pasta.
- Mushrooms also make excellent soup, with the addition of onions, stock and a touch of cream. I like to add some chopped thyme, which I think goes well with mushrooms.
This is making me feel hungry, so I’ll see you next time.
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