Some mushrooms appeared on our lawn. Well, that’s too grandiose; weedy grass would be more accurate. They looked like those you can buy in the shops, white on top, pink underneath and they peeled easily. Living in foreign parts we decided on caution and took them to the local pharmacie. The chemist looked at one closely, turned it upside down, sniffed it then said he wouldn’t touch it. With thirty deaths a year in France from eating poisonous mushrooms he had every reason to be cautious.
To the unwary, or those who are long-sighted, there doesn’t appear to be much to choose between these two sets of white mushrooms. You would probably suffer no adverse reactions from the first, but would be unlikely to survive the second. With a name out of a Harrison Ford film le calice de la mort is the chalice of death. Just one Death Cap mushroom could kill you.
If you go down to the woods today you will find, despite lockdown Mark II, the occasional car or van discreetly hidden among the trees. Conditions are ideal here at the moment; a warm, damp end to October has prolonged the foraging season and mushrooms are abundant in the oak forest. Those who know where to find the les cèpes and les bolets make sure that nobody else does.
Pre-Covid Madam was often often given a basket of cèpes. They are an acquired taste and we did not appreciate them as much as we should have. Maybe it’s their unappealing look that doesn’t set our taste buds tingling.
This easily recognisable mushroom is known for its foul odour and shape. Despite its obnoxious smell immature Stinkhorns, as they are commonly known, are eaten here in France. A 16th century botanist referred to it as the pricke mushroom. You don’t need to forage for long to find them; the stench ensures that. Victorians were so disconcerted at their shape and tried to destroy them to stop the spores spreading. A waste of effort; the purpose of course was to avoid impressionable young ladies being embarrassed if they came across them during an early morning walk; presumably those same prudes who covered piano legs to preserve their modesty. This has been debunked as a myth by the author of The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners. Impudicus? from the Latin for ‘immodest’ or ‘shameless’.
Even if we had permission from our local Mairie we couldn’t just go and forage. We would have to make sure we weren’t on propriété privée; the landowner owns the mushrooms. We would have to carry the mushrooms in a wicker basket (plastic bags ferment and damage the mushrooms), they must be picked only when they are a certain size and they must only be cut with a special knife with a curved blade. What’s more, we would have to leave some of the mushroom behind (cut so that you leave the stem and spores in the ground) so that they can regrow the following year. Are these rules adhered to? Maybe.
If we were fortunate enough to find truffles some must go back in the ground for the same reason. Pity really as they are not called Black Diamonds for nothing. We would have to go north to Périgord as they’re not found here. Well, not as far as we know. We don’t own a truffle hunting dog or tame pig to help either.
‘Journey into a blissful state of mind exploration as a myriad of flying colours dance in front of your eyes. Embrace the happy feelings and let your senses flourish to awareness levels never experienced before.’ So says an advertiser of magic mushroom Growkits. Le champignon hallucinogène is not hard to find here. But, a word of caution; whatever ‘benefits’ people say they might have, in France psilocybin mushrooms are listed as a narcotic. The possession, use, transportation, sale and collection are illegal.
Let’s finish on a more agreeable note again. Stuck for a Christmas present? We met Perry a few years ago when he had an exhibition at Sauveterre de Béarn. His humorous drawings of life in South West France capture the essence of rural French life. He has books, prints and cards on sale on his website http://www.perrytaylor.fr/en
Next post 18. Black Friday 13th.