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Why mushroom hunter is a fungi to be around September 16, 2005 - scotsman.com
YOU'D think there really wasn't that much to mushrooms. They sit all white and innocent-looking in punnets squashed somewhere between the peppers and the courgettes at the supermarket.
But Dr Stephan Helfer, a mycologist with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, has a different take on them. He's a keen mushroom-hunter and goes out picking 20 varieties of fungi locally and across Scotland.
"There are between 8000 and 10,000 different species of mushroom in Britain," explains Stephan. "But most people wouldn't consider many of them to be what they call mushrooms. There are about 1000 different species we would actually recognise as mushrooms.
"Mushrooms are there all year around - if you dig up any bit of woodland soil you will find white wisps in the top layer."
He adds: "The normal British public probably only eats one species. On a Continental market you would probably expect about 50 different species for sale, though not all at the same time. There's probably another 50 or so which are edible but which most people don't value."
Stephen says that most people he meets out fungi foraging are Polish. "Picking mushrooms in the wild is still a big pastime in Poland, as it is in the Czech Republic, southern Germany, Italy and particularly France."
In fact, on the other side of the Channel mushroom hunting is so much part of the culture that pickers can take their bounty along to a chemist to verify that they have edible species.
Over here, we're all a bit more wary about plucking our food straight from the ground.
But food scares and the growth of the organic market have led many to be a little more adventurous - and this autumn, the best season for mushroom-hunting, there is a feast of courses being held in Lothian to help would-be pickers tell the difference between their tasty breakfast fry-up treat and lethal toadstools.
"For someone who is not trained at all they need to be totally confident, so it's best to have a course for the experience," says Stephan.
Once wannabe pickers are clued up, though, the variety is immense. "There are around 20 different species found regularly around Edinburgh and Lothian and you may find another 20 on occasion. My favourite is the chanterelle, it's a nice yellow colour, it looks beautiful, it tastes wonderful. It occurs in woodlands and most people who love it wouldn't tell you where to find it - it comes back in the same spots again and again."
* THERE are a number of organised mushroom hunts over the next few weeks:
* Valvona & Crolla is running two "fungi forays" on September 24 and October 8. Both are fully booked for this year - staff say they are usually booked up by mid-summer, so get in early next year if you're keen. But Professor Roy Watling, a consultant mycologist, will be running three "fungi surgeries" in the Elm Row store, identifying picked wild mushrooms, on September 26, October 8 and October 10, all from 11am to 4pm.
* The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is holding a one-day mushroom-hunting workshop and field trip led by Gordon Rutter on Saturday, October 29, from 10am to 4pm, priced ?30 (concessions ?27). To book call 0131-248 2937.
* A light-hearted look at the world of mushrooms and fungi for beginners will be held at the National Trust for Scotland's property, Newhailes, in Musselburgh on Saturday, September 24, from 10am to 11.30am. The event costs ?2 for adults and ?1 for children and booking is essential - call 0131-653 5595.
* West Lothian Countryside Rangers Service is holding a Toadstool Tour on Sunday, October 23, from 2pm to 3.30pm. This family-oriented event is aimed at helping children and their parents identify fungi. Meet at Gasworks Brae, Bank Street, Mid Calder.