Monday, October 09, 2006

Cordon Vert Fungus Foray

This is a course that I've been trying to get on for a couple of years but it's always been booked up. This year I booked it really early and have been looking forward to it since around May time.

I love mushrooms, so the thought of going out searching, picking and then cooking our finds was quite exciting. And, I'm pleased to say, the weekend did not disappoint.

The weekend was held at the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert School in Altrincham, near Manchester. It all started on Friday night with a slide show about the various different types of fungi presented by Dr Patrick Harding, who was to be our guide and expert for the weekend.

Patrick Harding has written a lot of books on plants and fungi as well as regularly presenting lectures and other weekends such as this one across the country.

Patrick is quite a character, reminding me of a cross between Stanley Unwin and Gandalf. He's a great bloke, and regular enthusiastic whoops and cries accompanied the various finds during our forays over the next couple of days which was quite amazing considering he's been doing this for years.

Saturday morning started with a more in depth slide show detailing how to categorise fungi and a look at the kind of stuff we might find. We then went to Dunham Massey, a local National Trust property, where we began our foray.

It wasn't long before a shout went up and we had discovered our first fungus, a blusher. Patrick showed us how to identify it and quizzed us as to which group of fungi it fitted into. After the initial find, things were a bit sparse for the first hour or so with just the odd patch of sulpher tuft and a few 'little brown jobs' as Patrick dismissively called them.

Just as we were about to take a break for a picnic lunch things started getting interesting with hen of the woods, a parasol and a host of ink caps. No too much edible stuff yet, but it was interesting to see the diversity of different species.

The afternoon proved to be really good and we collected a host of fungi, both edible and not including some bay boletes, beefsteak and a single cep. Some of the fungi such as the amethyst deceivers and some of the waxtops were amazing colours.

Around 3pm we made our way back to the Cordon Vert school and, once there, Patrick challenged us to categorise all our finds. We didn't do too bad, only a handful of them were wrong. Patrick calculated that we had collected 62 different species during the day. I never realised that there were so many!

Before the evening meal we had a slide show about edible funghi and, after dinner, we had a presentation about the folklore of fungus, including some interesting theories about the origin of Santa Claus.

On Sunday morning we went for an hour and a half's foray over the local golf course. We returned with another dozen new species, including a couple that Patrick hadn't seen before and took with him to check.

After we returned it was time to cook some recipes using the edible fungi that we had found. Some of them, such as the beefsteak are a bit of an aquired taste but others were very nice.

The weekend was great fun and very, very interesting. I'm interested to get out and see what fungi the local woods and paths have to offer. Whether I'll be brave enough to eat anything I find, I don't know. If you see Patrick Harding doing any presentations around your way, I urge you to go and see him - you won't regret it.

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