by Paul Cormacain
WHEN you get over 21 years of age you start remembering the old days when the skies were bluer, there was no rain, your energy was limitless, and there were more mushrooms. And I don't mean shop mushrooms no, not at all, but rather the mushrooms we used to gather in the fields.
Real mushrooms now seem to be a thing of the past, and I have certainly not seen any real mushrooms for years, but last week we came across the larger, more rare, horse mushroom.
We were walking in the fields on the Antrim/Down border and came across these mushrooms quite by chance. Then I remembered that we came across some of them last year in a spot not very far from this year's ones.
A total of three horse mushrooms grew there, and we were surprised they had not been spotted, taken and eaten. We were tempted to take one, but thought it would be better to wait till we find a larger group of them. Some wait!
These horse variety were all about 15 cuts across, which is large and extremely edible, but we would regularly see larger ones, perhaps up to 20 cuts across, or even more. These mushrooms were creamy in colour but will turn to russet. (Unless temptation overcomes me and I dash back and collect some mushrooms for the pot before they get a chance to change colour).
All parts stain yellow, and for that reason some folk would mistake this for a Yellow-staining Mushroom. The latter is highly indigestible and can, and will, cause severe gastric upsets if eaten. For this reason alone I would advise no one to eat any wild fungi unless they are absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.
To get back to the horse mushroom. (I am getting hungry already). The
gills are pinkish grey to dull brown. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it
is to look on it as a very large mushroom.
For the gourmet. Some folk would say that the horse mushroom smells pleasantly of almond. My smelling is not so good so I can not vouch for that.
As Mrs Beaton would say, `first you pick your mushroom'. If yours is
still dome-shaped you can stuff it
with whole tomatoes, and if your mushroom is flat, you could grill it whole, just like a steak. If you are trying to impress you could stew it in milk, drain, then place in a dish of white sauce. Pick fresh red currants from your garden, heat them to the point of bursting, and with this you garnish the fungus. (I am getting hungrier.)
Mushrooms are lovely, but as mentioned they are becoming more difficult to find. I really do remember going out into the fields and picking few dozen of the fungi with ease, and in no time at all. Oh for the good old days!
Near where we came across the large mushrooms there were a couple of mistle thrushes gathering food for the young. Usually, if a bird finds food, that food will be gobbled down instantly. During the courtship period the male will not gobble the food, but will offer some to the female. Some females come a begging food from the male, and the male has never been known to refuse.
When there are young to be fed it is quite miraculous how the apparently greedy birds become incredibly generous, fill their mouth, sometimes their crop, with food and take it home. Their compulsion is to get food to the babies, their own hunger is not to be sated until after they have looked after the little ones. These mistle thrushes were living up to the highest standards, looking after the little ones as a first priority.
Sunday 29 June - Butterfly Conservation is on the trail of the large heath butterfly, at 11 am, in north Antrim, with Trevor Boyd, from whom more details on 9185 2276
Monday 30 June - Bird Watching Boat Trip on Lough Neagh at 2pm. More from Oxford Island on 3832 2205.
Sundays 6 July to 31 August - Coney Island Boat Trips. Contact Lough Neagh Discovery Centre for more details, phone 3832 2205.