The Forest Feast

MushroomingMushrooming with ConfidenceNo woodland walk will ever be the same again once you become aware of the amazing universe of the forest floor, which in terms of colour and life is a match for any coral reef. And the forest floor is right at your feet, so to speak, or at least not far from your door.

When in autumn you walk through a beech wood and marvel at the intensity and variety of the colours, think for a moment about those leaves.

There are about 3 to 4 metric tons of leaves to one hectare of beech wood. After their job is done on the branches, they fall to the ground. If they did not decompose we would soon be swimming through a sea of leaves.

Likewise, unrotted fallen branches would in time pile up as insurmountable obstacles.
A leaf falls to the ground, inspiring on its way a poet who happens to be passing by; but on a more practical level, bacteria are the first organisms to get busy.

Shortly afterwards, it is fungi, algae and protozoans which play their part in the work of decomposition.

Soon, millions of organisms and little animals are at work on that single leaf. In due course the leaf is fully decomposed, its constituent parts recycled back into the forest soil, keeping it fertile by providing the essential substances for all the plants in the wood.

The vital role of mushrooms
Fungi are key players in maintaining tree growth and health. The reason the birch bolete is always found near birch trees, and the larch bolete always near larch trees, is that these pairs live in a symbiotic relationship. They need each other.
Even  the most half-hearted mushroom-hunter will soon become aware of the all-encompassing interrelations in the wood. Mushrooming makes you see and appreciate the woodland differently.

What does ‘edible’ mean?
There are few pleasures as exclusive and satisfying as a feast of delicious wild mushrooms. Conventional mushroom identification books promise to enable you to identify hundreds, if not thousands, of edible mushrooms. However, ‘edible’ simply implies ‘not poisonous’ and is no indicator of culinary value. Cardboard is ‘edible’ too!

We only want to focus on the very best and most common mushrooms because that makes it easier to identify them safely. It is easier than you may think to feast on what the forest has to offer, untroubled by fear and doubt, which I hope might provoke a deeper interest in the world of mushrooms. Enjoy!

From Mushrooming with Confidence © 2011 by Alexander Schwab, published by Merlin Unwin Books.