Wednesday, 28 August 2013

‘Tis the season for fungi forays

‘Tis the season for fungi forays and signs are it’s going to be a good one. On 28th August Cynan Jones took us from Beddgelert through fields and woods to The Mushroom Garden at Nantmor.  

After a briefing at the main bridge we walked along the river bank, past Gelert’s grave, across the main road into the fields and then into National Trust woodland. Along the way were plenty of specimens to be examined and explained with a dollop of local folklore. There was even an impressive steam train.

Why is it that people in Wales and the rest of Britain know so little about fungi compared to continentals? Some blame the Methodists for being killjoys, telling ordinary folk that fungi were the work of the devil. Another theory is the rush to industrialisation which took people off the land into the towns with fungal knowledge lost in a couple of generations.  But it’s never too late to learn.

Cynan himself got going as a student at the Plas Tan y Bwlch fungi course, which is run each October, and this year he is going to be a guest tutor on the course. Correct identification of mushrooms is an important decision and with 30,000 different species it sounds a bit daunting. But Cynan explained that there are only fifteen really tasty ones and only fifteen really poisonous ones so if you concentrate on these as opposed to the other 29,970 it all becomes more manageable. As a rule of thumb, learn one tasty and one poisonous one each year. We were reassured to know that Cynan had been studying for fifteen years.

We looked at a wide range of mushrooms and picked some tasty ones to take back for eating. In looking for mushrooms we were encouraged to search near natural obstacles such as path edges with rocks beneath, the sort of place a mycelium might grow up to, decide it could go no further, find no food and die, hence the need to sprout a fruiting body for the sake of the next generation.  There were lots of different species either side of the riverbank footpath down the Aberglaslyn Gorge. 

At The Mushroom Garden, a farmyard with open barns and a couple of containers, Cynan explained the need to get into the head of the mushroom.  On the right was the summer container where bags of woodchip, impregnated with shiitake or oyster mushroom spores, were kept in summer conditions for about eight weeks. Once they develop the ‘popcorn look’ it’s time to whip them next door to the autumn container with much cooler temperature and shorter daylight. In panic at the prospect of death, they are ‘shocked’ into fruiting and Cynan and family harvest 100kg a week.

Some go fresh to posh restaurants and to local markets, others get converted into more durable products such as dried mushrooms, mushroom powder or Umami powder. Other products include mushroom caviar and pickled mushrooms both of which make good starters. Umami chocolates, in the shape of mushrooms, made by the Llan Ffestiniog chocolatier, are highly recommended.

To finish up Cynan did us a fry up. Chanterelles, followed by porcini then shiitake. Our eyes and taste buds were open to a new world. Thanks Cynan for a great event and also for contributing an article to the autumn edition of the Snowdonia Society magazine which has food as its theme. For more information about The Mushroom Garden and its tasty products have a look at the website.

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