I think the best way to deal with fungi, generally, is quick and simple. This particularly applies to shaggy ink caps. There are two reasons why – correct me if I’m wrong – you’ll never find fresh shaggys on a restaurant/bistro menu. They deliquesce (dissolve to inky black liquid) very quickly after picking and there is a widely held belief that alcohol should be avoided for several days each side of eating. I haven’t checked the alcohol theory myself, but I’ll let you know if I spew after my wine tomorrow evening [I didn’t]. The soup’s already eaten, and delicious it was, too. A delicate, silvery grey liquid with equally delicate flavour.
Shaggys can be found in woodland, on path and roadside verges and are commonly seen, despite their apparent fragility, forcing their way up through roads and pavements The most fruitful patch I ever found was on a bank on the edge of a Tesco car park.
Shaggy Ink Caps
Salt & pepper
First, age and condition. If you come across a growth of shaggys with firm, closed caps as above, pick and get them to the kitchen as quick as you can. Don’t make the mistake I once did and think, “Ooh, I’ll come back for those tomorrow,” as tomorrow they’ll look like the three rear bodies below, which are past their best.
Remove and discard the stems, check for creatures and flick off any earth then chop to desired size. They’ll shrink a little on cooking. Put in a small pan and pour in milk to about ½ or ¾ way up the fungi pieces. Add crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste with half your chopped parsley. Carefully bring to the boil then barely simmer for 5 minutes. Now you have a choice. Some recommend removing the poached fungi and discarding the poaching liquid. I favour serving and eating the lot as soup. Sprinkle with the rest of your parsley.
If you’re lucky, the spot where you picked this crop will yield another in a week or ten days.
The local churchyard seems to be alive with psilocybe cyanescens – if I’m identifying correctly. There are pounds of them, no joke, following the mower going over the grass last week and a wet, warm spell. Impressive, but I find day to day life weird and disjointed enough without the need for psychoactives.
Trailer for Permaculture: The Growing Edge
Extract from Permaculture: The Growing Edge showing remarkable research being done with fungi.
Brighton Permaculture Trust at Stanmer Park
For centuries, there have been many risks attributed to entering fairy rings or picking the fungi. If you really must try one of these recipes, but really are concerned for your safety, try carrying thyme with you, or spreading it across the ring before picking. This is said to confuse the fairies and remove the risk they might pose without any lasting harm.
One definite risk is mis-identification. Marasmius oreades, although by far the most common, is not the only fungus to grow in a ring formation. Notably, a couple of the clitocybes are toxic and must be avoided (clitocybes always sound to me like an alien race of murderous, rapacious females, probably in a David Cronenberg film). Until you are sure of what you’re looking for, always carry a good guide book, with photographs, not drawings.
Fairy Ring mushrooms are easily dried, after removing the woody, inedible stalks, and can be stored whole or powdered. In his Family Cook Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says they pickle well. Haven’t tried it myself, but all edible fungi seem to be good for pickling. Just make sure you use a recipe which jars them in oil, not brine.
Fairy Ring Omelette
Three Fairy Ring Recipes
Pasta Sauce & Risotto Recipes
Shaggy ink caps will never appear in the shops and very rarely, if at all, on the resaurant menu, as within a few hours of picking they quickly deliquesce, that is turn into a stinking black sludge. (But I recently read of someone who succesfully dries them in a dehydrator.)
Despite this they’re quite common in summer and early autumn, appearing everywhere from disturbed ground to punching up through the pavement. And they’re delicious.
There’s been speculation that they can make some people ill if taken with alcohol, but that seems to be due to confusion with the Common Ink Cap, which looks quite different.
Fried Shaggy Ink Cap with Eggs
Shaggy Ink Cap Soup
Shaggy Ink Cap Ketchup
I’m using the phrase ‘seasonal food’ to indicate those foods which, generally, are only available in their growing season, so many are wild and all grow in the UK.
Thanks to the generosity and endless patience of my partner and friends, I’m finally able to upgrade my Flickr account to “Pro”. So I’ve been busy uploading my collection of this autumn’s fungi pics.
All very well, but this gadding about taking photographs and offering to sort out people’s websites for nowt doesn’t pay the bills.
I can only hope that my reward will not be entirely in heaven.