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Saintly Sustenance – The St.George’s Mushroom

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.

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 hues) are sturdy and fleshy. They expand flatter with age, with an irregular wavy edge. The margin is always inrolled slightly. 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 don’t recommend eating it raw really, not because of digestive upset, but simply because it tastes  (for want of a better word) ‘orrible! They’re best gently sautéd for quite a while due of their tough, fleshy nature.

I wish you luck in finding some this spring.

Calocybe gambosa

St.Georges Mushrooms. One of the first large edible mushrooms of the year. Growing in pasture, grassy fields, verges and woodland edges from April to June. Note: Top right image: By chance, I saw some 18 hours after this post – on a grassy verge of a quiet side street. Great!

QUICK ID TABLE: MACRO MUSHROOM Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Domed, then expanding. Margin is enrolled and often wavy. White to off-white colour (some ochre with age).

STEM

3-7cm x 1-4cm. White, solid. Often curved towards the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Whitish, sinuate. Narrow and very crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture. Grassy verges, woodland edges. April to June.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Very Good. Can be dried, pickled, cooked or eaten raw.

*Extra Photo credits: Many thanks to Wiki Commons for the use of these images. Authors: 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), Strobilomyces (centre images: bottom).

More Morels! The Semifree Morel

As you may know or not I recently got lucky finding some Black Morels this April 2012, and as luck would have it I actually stumbled across another species of Morel a couple of days afterwards! Marvellous…

Semifree Morel Picture

I had a foray at Cloud wood (NW Leicestershire. Note: Cloud Wood is access by permit only and no digging up or removal of fungi is allowed) in which I found a reasonably good bunch of wild fungi, some even first timers for me. The most distinctive discovery though was the Semifree Morel (Morchella semilibera / Mitrophora semilibera). You can read more of my lucky find of the tasty Black Morel here featuring useful information very similar to this Semifree species…

The distinctive vertical ridges and pits on the cap are almost the same as our lovely Black Morel, but when compared, the main difference is the smaller pointy cap and longer stem. The bottom part of the cap is free from the stem and attaches higher up, hence the English name ‘Semifree’.

Although it’s a great looking species of Morel, found in it’s native habitat in damp woodland (luckily there was rain a day or so before), it is unfortunately not as worthy as it’s tastier cousins. It is said to be edible (after cooking) but apparently not worth the effort. It has been known to cause stomach upset in some people. Well, you can’t win ’em all!

Hope you all get some luck finding some of the tastier Morels out there real soon…

Morchella semilibera

The Semifree Morel with it’s smaller pointy cap. The lower part of the cap is free from the stem, hence the English name. Not worth cooking though!

And to finish:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…