A Cautionary Tale

A few weeks ago, the carpenter borrowed a seed tray to take home a handful of mushrooms that he’d spotted in the field next to our house, which is currently grazed by cows. Now foraging for wild mushrooms is something that we have been wanting to investigate for a while, and his find prompted us to keep a closer eye on the field in the hope of finding and sampling our own first foraged mushrooms – on our own doorstep!

Yesterday evening, King of the Hill spotted a promising cap just over the fence, and popped over to take a closer look. He came back with the beautiful mushroom above. I admired its clean white-buff cap and beautiful salmon pink gills, and we popped it into the refrigerator; anticipating sharing it for breakfast this morning with an egg.

Of course, wild mushrooms must be treated with a lot of respect, and as the UK has a varied mix of both edible and poisonous fungi, a small number of which can be fatal, we weren’t about to tuck into this feast without confirming its identity first.

Reading around online, our mushroom appeared to perfectly fit the description of the Field Mushroom (Agaricus Campestris), down to its colouring, shape and size, and habitat. I noticed that it can, however, easily be confused with a poisonous mushroom known as the Yellow Stained, or Yellow Stainer (agaricus xanthodermus) which exudes a bright yellow stain when its flesh is bruised or cut, particularly around the base of the stem. I filed this information in my head, happy that our mushroom was a Field Mushroom as it exhibited no trace of yellow.

This morning I washed and began to slice the mushroom carefully, admiring its smooth meaty texture. A small yellow colouring began to creep into the base of the stem where I trimmed it, and alarm bells sounded in my head. Stopping in my tracks, I consulted the computer again and returned to the mushroom; the yellow colour had faded to a dull brown (behaviour common to this poisonous fungus) and a quick sniff filled my nostrils with an earthy iodine-like smell which is also a characteristic of the Yellow Stainer.

It appears that we had certainly found a Yellow Stainer, rather than a Field Mushroom, and if we had consumed it we would have been suffering from all sorts of unpleasant gastrointestinal effects by now. If you are not well versed in mushroom identification then it certainly pays to do a lot of research before eating anything that you find; and if in doubt, don’t eat it. A cautionary tale, indeed!


11 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. Lucky escape, the frill on the stem would have warned me off to be honest and it’s quite late for field mushrooms now, but it does a rather canny impression of one by the photo!

    My sister and I did the Mushroom course at River Cottage, it was great but it makes you scared of ever picking any mushrooms in the UK, as nearly every edible one has an evil deadly twin ready to make you ill or worse. The only ones that can’t be confused are the Hedgehog mushroom and the Chanterelle, but I stick with field mushrooms as know them well from childhood picking.

    Great photos as always 🙂

    • Hi Beth, Mmm I must say I hadn’t thought of the frill as being bad sign, as field mushrooms grow with a partial veil over the gills which tears as they get older – this is presumably the remains of such a veil that has torn from the cap but remained on the stalk? A canny impression indeed, it almost fooled us.

      We might have to try that mushroom course, once things here calm down – perhaps it would be good to have a bit of fear put in us if we’re going to start trying to find wild mushrooms! How strange that there are so many evil twins out there! Thank you for sharing your mushroom knowledge! May have to consult you next year for mushroom season 🙂

      S x

  2. Purely the size and look of the frill, on field mushrooms they usually tear whilst the mushroom is quite small so it’s not such a ‘big’ frill, usually just a small one by the time the mushroom has fully opened. Could just be talking rubbish though! That was just my immediate thought on looking at the first photo.

    Really recommend the course, it’s great fun and you get a cooking demo plus lunch as well, worth staying overnight if it’s a bit of a drive.

    We took a book out with friends before doing the course and picked, cooked and ate wild mushrooms. I am grateful to this day that none of us got ill – LOL!


    • Ah okay, shall be more wary of big frills in future then!

      The course sounds lots of fun, definitely something to investigate. Perhaps we should treat ourselves for our anniversary next year – this year we did the apple espalier course for our first wedding anniversary!

      Glad to hear that your mushrooming day out before the course didn’t have any ill effects for any of you! 🙂

      S x

  3. You had a lucky escape – we have been eating field mushrooms for the past few weeks and I allways squeeze the top for the yellow test. Giant puffballs play no such tricks!

    • Very lucky indeed! The colour was quite subtle, I wasn’t sure whether I was imagining it until I smelt the iodine. We’ll be very cautious of any further mushrooms we find…

    • Very close! It looked so innocuous, and just as I expected a field mushroom to look. It even smelt lovely and mushroomy (except where the stem bruised and yellowed briefly on cutting). It even made it to the chopping board…

  4. I like the idea of foraging for mushrooms and there are courses run by the Forestry Commission near where I live. However I decided a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and decided ignorance and no attempts is bliss and it’s shop bought all the way for me. I recall reading last year about an experienced picker making a mistake last year and he and his wife ending up on dialysis in hospital.

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