Friday, 18 November 2011

Funghi fears and fun

A terrific and terrifying article by Nicholas ('The Horse Whisperer') Evans in last Saturday's Guardian, in which he outlines the circumstances in which he and three other adults had their kidneys irreparably damaged. By irreparably, I do mean 'without hope of recovery'. In fact they would be dead if not for prompt action, and five hours a day each of dialysis. He has now accepted a kidney from his daughter, so that he (and she) each have a single working kidney. The other three people wait in hope of a transplant, and are only kept alive by long daily sessions on the dialysis machines.
There has been a certain amount of comment on this article on various science-based blogs I follow, because Evans has been in receipt of an awful lot of loony advice about giving up the medicines and the treatment and using crystals (or whatever) to 'regrow' his kidneys. Rightly should such advice be scorned and ridiculed (basic biology - livers can regrow, up to a point. Kidneys don't, possibly why two kidneys is a better evolutionary deal than just one).
But my focus here is the foraging aspect. Evans and the others ate the wrong wild mushrooms, the kind that make you feel incredibly ill but not until enough hours have passed that irreparable damage has been done already.

One paragraph really struck me:

 "The cause was much more complex than has been talked about. I did pick [the mushrooms], but it was really two people, each thinking the other one knew what he or she was doing."

So, if I read him aright, it seems that the people involved took each other's expertise for granted, perhaps both thinking 'well, not sure, but X obviously knows what they are...'

I thought of it even more this week when a friend, a long time forager, gave us some lovely funghi that he had just picked.

I've always been a bit shy about picking funghi, for the very good (it seems to me) reason that the excuse 'well, it looks a bit like...' doesn't sound so convincing when your stomach is being pumped out. I'm doing my best to learn, but have three or four times this year collected mushrooms, brought them home, and then chucked them out because I really wasn't sure enough about what I was looking at.

So, rather than accept Francis' word for it, I made spore prints, consulted several books (especially those with several photos of each species) and cross referenced.

And last night we had a delicious chanterelle omelette. Chanterelles are fairly easy - the smell particularly is distinctive, strong and pleasantly fruity.

This evening I'm going to stew some field blewitts - also distinctive, though I was not familiar with them before. I was helped in this by the delicate violet of the stalks and the scrolled and curled edges - also because one of my field guides has about 7 photos of them in different angles, which was a great help.

I'm planning to cook them slowly with leeks, bacon and beans. I'm cautiously optimistic I'll still be here next week.

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