<a href="https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/richard#">Life in the Slow Food Lane</a>

Life in the Slow Food Lane

A look at the eco side of eating, with Richard Cornish

Collecting mushrooms


Credit: iStockphoto

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Every autumn I make my way back to the country town where I grew up. When the autumn rains hit the warm, dry earth, an explosion of life occurs.

Moss swells and turns verdant green, perennial grasses send out new shoots, and from under the soil countless fungi send up fruiting bodies in the form of toadstools and mushrooms.

I wander over the paddocks with a basket and a knife, and scour the ground for fungi.

When we were growing up, my sister and I collected thousands of mushrooms that we sold by the roadside in open trays made from sheets of folded newspaper. We sold them for the equivalent of $1.30 a kilogram.

Year after year, we returned with our buckets, and each time it seemed there were fewer and fewer mushrooms.

Thirty years later, I met a Bhutanese agronomist who explained that I might have been the cause of the mushrooms' demise. He had trained Tibetan people to use cane baskets for collecting mushrooms, and to carry them gill side down, to allow their spores to fall back to earth and reseed the ground.

I returned to a paddock from my childhood to find it totally devoid of autumn fungi, including the pine mushrooms and slippery jacks we left to the insects.

An intensive horticultural project had been installed in a neighbouring farm and many of the locals blamed the fungicidal sprays drifting over the fence for the mushrooms' demise.

Fungi are an essential part of an ecosystem's web of decay and regeneration, as they consume plant matter and turn it into compost.

In heavily populated areas of Europe, picking wild mushrooms is banned or strictly controlled; Switzerland even has Pilzkontrol or 'mushroom police' who check baskets for deadly species, and make sure people take only their bag limit.

That's the nasty side of wild fungus. Eat the wrong one and you could end up with a bad tummy, or worse - with a liver turned to pulp, causing death within 24 hours. As a rule of thumb, only eat a wild fungus if you're 200 per cent sure it's safe.

Or trust the professional mushroom hunters who supply the big city markets with really good wild mushrooms at this time of year.

Whenever I go to the markets I ask the stallholders whether their hunters are using baskets. Because if they're not, in a few years they won't have a job, and we won't have any mushrooms.