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Spring fungi surprises

It wasn't until I moved here to Waterhay that I realised a good selection of fungi actually appear in the spring. To someone who has always enjoyed finding and identifying fungi in the late summer and autumn, this was a revelation! And this spring here on the farm has been no exception.

As you may already know I particularly like eating St Georges mushrooms. These are a fine fungi of meadows that appear around St Georges day. Attempts to grow them in cultivation have failed due to their very particular habit of growing symbiotically with grass, just under the surface of the soil. This means if you want to eat one, it has to be wild. They grow in definite rings, and appear in the same ring every year. The rings are obvious in March where the grass grows extra lush, so this is a good time to find new rings. However not all the rings you might find will fruit, and some will be other types of fungi. I have located 3 productive St Georges rings on the farm (actually the kids found one, and the cows found one), so I like to keep and eye on these and keep the cows off them until post mushroom time. We sometimes get the odd one or 2 mid April but lately the best and biggest crops have been in May, so I was surprised to find a good quantity of quality mushrooms on the 26th April, in pretty dry conditions. These provided an excellent lunch (cooked in butter with a bit of garlic, served on toast). However that was the only ones I got to eat this season, as the dry weather meant others I found were small and had gone over rapidly.

But whilst the St Georges were good, a few days before on the 20th April I had a real surprise. My daughter spotted some unusual fungi and took a picture on her phone, then showed me. They were unlike anything I had ever seen so we headed to the spot and in front of us were quite a few Semi-free Morels. These are strange looking beasts and in a completely different family to St Georges, these don't have gills, and are known as spore shooters or Ascomycota. I had to get the BIG book out to identify these, (Mushrooms by Roger Philips which along with the River Cottage Fungi Handbook by John Wright is the only 2 fungi ID books you need), and was surprised to find they are relatively widespread. They like being near to Ash trees and a bit of cover, and are actually tricky to spot. However once you get your eye in they were all over the place. Are they edible? Well, if cooked probably, however these specimens were starting to go over, and there is a bit of a difference of opinion, so I chose to leave them alone. So, keep your eyes out all year for fungi, and as always, do not eat unless you are completely sure what the fungi is, and it is an edible type, and its from an area where you are allowed to pick. If in doubt, keep it out!


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