Only pick what you know. That is a fair mantra of foraging, particularly fungi foraging. Avoid the ones with white gills is another. By riding roughshod over these two snippets of wisdom I have just collected my first new species of mushroom in quite some time, and a delicious one at that.
I spotted it before I had even arrived at my intended destination, spotted through the window of my car. Large white caps with pointy centres (I’ll come back to that). At first I thought they were field or horse mushrooms and hoped to see an appetising set of dark gills under the caps. I got out of the car and approached, crouched down, gently lifted the edge of a cap and peered underneath. White gills: I got up, returned to the car disappointed and turned on the ignition. Then I stopped for a second with a thought and turned off the car (please, if you can, try to ignore the terrible anti-environmental nature of all this). The pointy caps reminded me of something, something both fungal and everyday – umbrellas, or, for an alternative use, parasols.
Those with some experience of mushroom collecting may well realise what I was onto, others please bear with me.
I opened my identification guide, and, as if fate decreed, it fell open on the Lepiota pages – the parasols. The first page showed common and shaggy parasols which I have collected before. But the second page I had until now ignored. There was the slender parasol, tall thin stem, light cap and white gills, with a remnant frill on the stem.
I cut away a bag full and placed them carefully in the back of my car. The rest of my trip on foot was less productive – a couple of bolete varieties and some chestnuts – but I had a meal in the bag.
It was a new and interesting mushroom and I created a new and interesting dish, as it was, a fat free vegan meal, although that was in no way the intention. They were slowly braised in a rich vegetable stock with the first leeks of the season, some sage and waxy potatoes. They had a distinctive, savoury flavour, similar to other parasols and also blewits. So, from slender pickings, a virtuous feast!