History has it that on this day in 1415 St.George’s Day was declared a national feast day. And if you’re lucky enough, you may find the perfect ingredient in the form of Calocybe gambosa, commonly known as St.George’s Mushroom.
This is one of the few edible species (of the larger kind) to be found in spring, and April 23rd was a convenient date to choose for its common name. They appear around this marked event, although in most cases they often arrive one or two weeks later, continuing to fruit until mid-June. (Update 24.04.18: But by chance, I saw some today – 24 hours after this post – on a grassy verge of a quiest side street. I must be blessed!)
Their typical habitat is pastureland, but they also frequent grassy roadside verges and woodland edges, often in small to medium sized groups. At any other time of year (mainly the mushroom season in autumn) white gilled mushrooms (or ‘whitish’ as in C.gamboasa’s case) tend be untrusted, and for good reason too; many potently poisonous species share the same coloured gills. But during the spring season, there’s not too much the St.George’s Mushroom can be mistaken with.
Along with checking all the identification traits it’s also good (especially in this case) to check out the smell. The mature, fresh specimen will have a strong ‘mealy’ scent, which is an old fashioned term often used in describing certain mushrooms odours. It is hard to define but is often described either as fresh cucumber, watermelon rind, or an old grain mill. You’ll understand after a quick sniff!
Other features to note are the medium to large white dome like caps (becoming off-white with ochre marks) which expand with age, often irregularly and usually splitting. The gills (also off-white) are sinuate, narrow and densely crowded. The white stem is chunky and solid (with no ring present) and can be up to 4cm thick.
It goes without saying that the St.George’s Mushroom is a most welcome site for any forager, especially at this time of year. Highly prized, not only for its taste but also its flexibilty; it can be dried, pickled, cooked or even consumed raw.
I wish you luck in finding some this spring.
QUICK ID TABLE: MACRO MUSHROOM Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus
CAP / FLESH
5-15cm across. Domed, then expanding. Margin is enrolled. White to off-white colour (ochre colouring with age).
3-7cm x 1-4cm. White, solid. Often curved towards the base.
GILLS / SPORE PRINT
Whitish, sinuate. Narrow and very crowded.
HABITAT / SEASON
Pasture. Grassy verges, woodland edges. April to June.
Edible. Very Good. Can be dried, pickled, cooked or eaten raw.
*Photo credits: Many thanks to Wiki Commons for the use of these images. Authors: Strobilomyces (Header image), Andrew – originally posted to Flickr as St George’s mushrooms, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6829007 (centre images: top left), Jerzy Opioła – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24870192 (centre images: top right), Strobilomyces (centre images: bottom).