I have known Amelia and Leon for some time through Prog but only became aware of this chance to forage with them on the Saturday, because Facebook is so good at allowing you to see the things you actually want to see. Fortunately, I was available and was still able to walk after my 16 mile tabbing adventure on the Friday night, and this seemed like the perfect way to stretch my legs.
The initial invite was clear. “Join us for a mushroom walk through Chicksands. Come and learn what to eat and what to leave alone. We will meet at 13.00, do the walk and then have refreshments. One off free of charge event 🙂 ” and the supplemental message had me hooked.
Tomorrow’s the day we go for our stroll in the woods. We will meet by the tables by the main entrance to Chicksands at 1pm. You will need to bring some warm & waterproof clothing (we will be walking in anything short of a monsoon), & if any of you have baskets for the mushrooms, that would help. We will both be wearing silly hats, so feel free to join in with us in that.
See you tomorrow!”
All I had to do was find Chicksands Wood. Which was easier said than done because my almost as useless as Facebook satnav denied its existance. I knew I had to turn left off the A600, and as there was a sign for Chicksands I was beginning to feel hopeful. I drove past Rowney Warren and when I very soon found out that the Chicksands sign was just taking me to an MOD property and a dead end, I drove back to Rowney Warren, with the intention of checking where I was on Google Maps on my telephone.
However, I did not need to do this, because as I drove into the car park I spotted Leon, and after I had parked up he confirmed that I was in the right place. I had left myself more than sufficient time to get here, so I had an opportunity to catch up with Amelia and Leon before other people started to arrive for the mushroom walk.
In the end there were 4 boys and 3 girls (Linda Horn, Rob and Alexis Crossland (both of whom I recognised from Prog gigs – it’s a small world !), and Barry Fletcher) and we decided to split into those two groups, with one group going one way away from the parking area, the other group going the other way, and may the best group win !
So Rob, Barry and I started off, following behind our guide and leader, Leon, as he led us into the woods. It took a little while before we found anything, with Leon was beginning to wonder if this was a good location at all, and now the first thing we found were some sulphur tufts, which rank as a 2 out of 3 on a scale of bad. We were not going to be taking those in our basket, and Leon made sure to clean his hands well after handling them. As we continued walking Leon explained what mushrooms are, and there was a good level of conversation going on as our sightings of mushrooms suddenly increased. We found some that Leon said were possibly oak milk cap, although on seeing the photos we took Amelia later confirmed that it was not. Leon told us that so many of the mushrooms we were finding were just too young to properly identify, and he was not putting anything he could not postively identify into our basket, so I think he was very relieved to come across a wood blewit, and we were finally on our way.
After that we had only seen some bracket before the girls sent through a photo of some porcini mushrooms they had found, so if you know Leon you can imagine how he reacted to that. He was adamant that we needed to find more and better mushrooms, and so we continued deeper into the woods. We were coming across things which were interesting to me, although useless so far as our crop was concerned. The spoor shoot puffball was a lot of fun, with Leon demonstrating how it delivered its spoors through a dust cloud, which was reminiscent of part of his performance at Celebr8, which you can read about here.
The earth ball was solid and dark inside, and the dog’s chewy ball turned out to not be a mushroom at all. We did find some more real mushrooms, including the deceiver and the amethyst deceiver, before we found a bumper from a truck.
I have no idea how it could easily have got to where it was, and it has to be said that as a group we were pretty disgusted by the amount of litter we encountered in the woods. We found something which was yellow and wet, and could possibly have been chicken of the woods, but it was growing on pine, which would have been unusual. That did lead Leon to warn us to never eat anything which is growing off yew. We had come round to near where we had started, coming out into a car park a little further up, and we found two big parasol mushrooms to add to our wood blewit.
We had covered a mile and been walking for an hour to come away with that (although I had also spotted two frogs, which was a bonus), so we hoped the girls had enjoyed better success. They certainly had and came back with three baskets containing a good quantity and variety of mushrooms, and we were able to add to these some mushrooms which Amelia and Leon had foraged earlier.
We now set about preparing the mushrooms to be cooked, and during that process we found out that the parasols we had found were both so full of maggots that they had to be discarded, which left us boys contributing one wood blewit to the feast.
Some other parasols were blusing red when cut, so they were also binned just in case. It turns out they would have been safe to eat.
Leon cooked all the mushrooms together in oil with some salt and pepper and it all tasted delicious, with some very particular flavours to the different varieties.
Leon has said there will be more foraging with Amelia and Leon in the Spring and I am already looking forward to that.
You can see more photographs from the mushroom walk here.