Autumn is a time to pause and reflect.
All around us plants are winding down, leaves of scarlet, orange, red and yellows taking the place of the familiar green, the last of the summer migrant birds are gathering together to fly further south, caterpillars are forming safe cocoons in sheltered spots and animals are storing food reserves for the colder months yet to come.
However, there is one group of plants that bursts forth in our woodlands and fields when the autumn rain falls and the warmth of the summer subsides, one that is full of folklore, mystery and delight, mushrooms.
Ever resourceful mankind has taken this opportunity to eat this bounty of nature and what a risk the early experimenters were taking. Whilst most mushrooms are tasteless or tiny or both, there are a reasonable number that are very poisonous and a few that are fatal. Fortunately, these are well described and documented and with knowledge and expert guidance, we have about twenty very delicious wild mushrooms that are safe to eat. I like to keep to the easier to recognize, larger and therefore more rewarding types.
There is no bigger one than the king among these wonderful fruiting bodies, namely the Giant Puffball or Calvatia gigantea.
This is unmistakable due to its large size and shape, usually rounded looking like a football but sometimes even larger. It grows on undisturbed poor ground like gateways, wasteland and unfertilised grassland and as it’s in the puffball family it just appears as a round fruiting form without a stem.
Lots of other creatures like to eat it too and slugs and snails quickly find and nibble it but due to its generous size there is usually still plenty to eat.
It needs to be harvested while still young and has solid white flesh throughout internally, you can tell by tapping it before you pick it and it should feel solid and firm. If you find it too late and the spores have started to develop, the centre turns yellow and eventually brown, it should then be left to mature and to spread its several trillion spores over the surrounding area.
However, if you find it early, it’s time to celebrate as it is a truly delicious mushroom that is lovely cooked for breakfast or dinner and one that man’s best science has so far failed to replicate the conditions needed to cultivate it.
Try frying thick strips, gently in a pan with welsh streaky bacon for breakfast or dipped in whisked ducks egg and breadcrumbs then fried with butter and garlic. Delicious!
Simon Richards, Gardener
Extract from Pembrokeshire Life