Expert guidance is a must to seek these tasty treats

DID you know the upper Calder Valley was home to the Horn of Plenty?

Well, this wild mushroom, usually better known by its French common name of Chanterelle, does come up occasionally in these parts.

I have only see it twice, though, and then only small isolated specimens. This double one that came up in September is five inches (13cm).

In the forests of Europe, in the Swiss mountains and the Jura Mountains in France the fungi come up in amazingly large quantities. That might be why we British lost interest in them several generations back, and why there is widespread difficulty in naming them and identifying the safe ones from the poisonous.

The only delicious one that I have ever found in worthwhile groups is the field mushroom, wild counterpart of the cultivated mushroom. That might be why growers started to specialise in it, because we were already familiar with it.

Actually, in the wild there are several species in this group, some of which can cause illness, though not usually severe. Watch out for the yellow-staining ones, these are to be avoided.

There are several kinds of wonderful fungi that can be cultivated, as can be seen by looking in the Organic Gardening Catalogue.

For those who are interested in studying the vast array of different species that grow in the wild, and maybe learning how to get a few tasty morsels for free, it is essential to go out with another person who knows their stuff.

These people are in big demand and are usually found leading a group, such as a Calderdale Wildside Walk, or a foray with Halifax Scientific Society.

A very common wild one that I eat occasionally (of about six or seven that I like) is the unfortunately named Jew’s Ear. Most books now have it as Jelly Ear and I have heard it called Tree Ear.

A friend says it is impossible to fry with his bacon because it spits and jumps out of the pan!

Some other fairly common edible ones in this area are Blewits (two species), Oyster Mushrooms (I’ve only seen the pale species in the wild), Chicken-of-the-Woods, Parasol Mushroom, and Shaggy Ink cap.

It is not worth risking eating a single cap of something if you are not absolutely certain you know it is not poisonous. You have to consider where it is growing, time of year, size and shape of cap, length and shape of stem, whether it has a ring on the stem, gill colour and several other characteristics to be safe.

Even in Europe, where they traditionally eat more wild mushrooms, there are apparently many cases of poisoning at this time of year.

The Death Cap is one of the worst, and it has been found in Calderdale, though not often. It’s colour ranges from greenish, or yellowish or white, edible-looking, and emerges from an egg-like bag just under or on the surface of the soil.

A book I recommend for the beginner is Roger Phillips “Mushrooms”, though it is no substitute for going out with an expert, just a useful aid to the memory.

A world expert in fungi started his career with the Halifax Scientific Society. Roy Watling’s name can be seen scattered through books like the one above, quoted as an authority on certain groups of species.

One of the first illustrated books ever to be published in the world “On Fungi in the Calder Valley” was written by James Bolton of Halifax in the 18th Century.

His archives are now housed for safety with Liverpool University. The Calder Valley does have a reputation for being good for fungi, so if you fancy becoming an expert, get the book and join a group.

I have to thank an anonymous man in the pub for the following warning.

“You meet bold mushroom collectors, and you meet old mushroom collectors, but you very rarely meet old, bold mushroom collectors!”