The forest near me is positively brimming with mushrooms right now. The rain and coolish temperatures have caught them all sticking their little heads out from the leaves and the papers are filled with stories about the finding of 2 kg ceps and huge puffballs. Unfortunately, I am not so much of a mushroom connoisseur (shouldn’t that be connoisseuse?!) to know which are edible and which are not, no matter how many people tell me which one is edible. I’m pretty sure I’d be okay to say ‘yes’ to a cep, especially since there’s only one bolete that is very poisonous and it’s quite different from the others. So for now, I just take pictures and draw them! And, of course, make bad jokes about them.
I love the fact that the verb to describe things growing in France is pousser - or to push. I like to imagine Mother Nature being told to push and the mushrooms pop out like little creatures. The earth is definitely pushing out a lot at the moment.
The forest where I go is a state-owned forest called the foret de la Braconne, of some 3,000 hectares. It sits right next to the army base and kind of straddles the N141 motorway. It gives good walks on well-marked pathways, where you can pick a well-signed route or make your own way. As a limestone karst area, there are lots of valleys and gulfs and chasms and caves. On the north side, there’s the ‘grande fosse’ and the ‘Devil’s fosse’ and then in the centre, there’s the fosse limousine, where skeletal remains have been found from years ago.
There are maps at the parking spots, but I’ve not yet found a map you can carry with you. However, at 14 km long, split by a motorway and a main road, and 4 km across, you’re not really likely to get lost, though it feels like it. I’ve got a blue map that is about as detailed as you can find in the shops, which has all the main trails on, but I’d like one with all the trails on. Impossible, I know.
The other good thing is that the hunts in the forest are well organised and there are areas strictly for recreation and areas strictly for hunting and rifle practice. That means it’s a lot easier to steer clear of the hunts. Both today and yesterday, I drove past a lot of cars at the Maison Forestière, realised there was a hunt on and drove on to a spot more known for mushroom picking and walkers.
At the rond point de chez Touchet, you don’t normally see another car. Today and yesterday, there have been five or six. I keep bumping into people who leap out of the woods at bizarre moments, carrying nothing more than a basket like that which I’d expect Red Riding Hood to have. Wicker baskets are good to keep mushrooms fresh and let spores drop back to the ground. There’s a lot of disturbance in the leaf mould under the trees and I guess there’ve been a good few people poking it with sticks to unearth treasures.
I’m mainly looking at ferns and leaves for a few art projects, but I’ve been keeping an eye out for mushrooms. Heston, it is now decided, is now part flat-coated retriever and as you’d expect with anything with bits of labrador, collie, shepherd and retriever, he’s bouncing. He’s a bouncing, bounding dog who needs a good two-hour exercise every day. Yes, every day. And if he doesn’t, he chews. He’s not wantonly destructive, just bored. He laps the garden. With an acre, you’d think that’s enough to keep him busy, but it’s not. Poor boy, with all that energy coursing through his veins.
Today, I did the same walk I did yesterday with Mme V. Heston’s favourite bit is the newly-returned Bandiat river.
Here you can see my little Tilly going in for a drink. Heston rampages around splashing as much as he can. Who’d blame him?
Heston’s generally rampaging round a tree. Further down, there’s electric fencing which gave Heston a shock today. Silly boy. He whimpered a bit but it seemed to have done its job.
These two do love a walk.
Anyway… the mushrooms. There is one I feel confident in deciding what it is. It’s not easily confused with anything else, it’s not edible and it’s not even slightly appetising.
… the vile, slimy and vibrant yellow ‘yellow brain fungus’ or tremella mesenterica. I think. I’m like 90% certain. It’s either that or someone was very, very ill. As you can see, it’s on a deadwood trunk, which is its favourite place to be.
Then next up is something that I’m guessing is from the pleurotes family, or oyster mushrooms to you and I. I think they’re old ones though.
With 600 varieties, I’m not pinning myself down more than that. To be honest, it was the underside that gave it away.
So the stem is a crucial part of mushroom identification, and this has one. I’d hazard a guess at an old branched oyster mushroom, but this is why I don’t eat them, because I’d be dead before long. What will be worse is if some expert comes along and says my mushrooms would make a fine meal, because then I’ll be cross. But I can tell they’re all old or yucky, so I doubt that very much.
Anyway, whilst I was down having a right good look at these little fellas, a big bouncy fella came along.
And the only other function of my daily walk is to get generally distracted by things and imagine I’m in a fairy story. I’ve got a red coat, and if I get myself a mushroom basket, I’ll be perfectly attired.