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Snow patrol – Wood Blewit

The last week or two has produced some amazing seasonal snow. The media has confirmed this is the earliest heavy snowfall since the dawn of time or some other scare-mongering weird world event! It’s Winter, it’s snow, it happens (no chips on my shoulder)! But fortunately being in the centre of the country we don’t really get the worst of it.

Wood BlewitAnyway, after some of the heavier snow had subsided and made the roads a little safer, I ventured out to Martinshaw Woods near Ratby in Leicestershire. I’ve heard from other people and from my own experience that Wood Blewits (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda) are quite common there, and being persistent even during heavy frost I thought I’d take my chances.

I was pushing my luck in the snow but I did find some mushrooms clinging on to life in the clearer areas of the woods. Eventually I found this solitary Wood Blewit, nearly missing it with its white snowy hat against a white snowy background disguise!

This mushroom is quite unmistakable in appearance although there are a some Webcaps sharing similar features. Look out for web-like fibres on the stem that were initially connected to the cap edge when young. If unsure, take a spore print. The Webcaps have a dark rusty brown spore print as opposed to the pale pink of the Blewits. In fact, I had an issue with this spore print business. Although pale, the print really looked more very light brown than pink. Take a look from last years post on Wood Blewits.

The Wood Blewit is commonly called Blue Hat or Blue Cap, but some people still call it a Blue-leg (the Field Blewit)! Well, that’s understandable I guess. The Wood Blewit, when younger, has a more blue-violet tint about it’s cap (Blue-Hat), but this fades over time to a paler brown colour. The gills share this trait – they remain lilac-blue for a while until fading to buff. The fibrous stem retains it’s unmistakable blue-violet streaks, hence people choosing to call it a Blue-leg.

So Field Blewits and Wood Blewits are very similar indeed and to get them mixed up, apart from their environment they’re in, is understandable. The Field Blewits cap is always pallid to dirty brown. It’s actually tastier than our Wood dwelling friend but unfortunately less frequent. It can be found in pasture land, and most recently for me, in someones grassy garden!

One thing to remember with Blewits is that some people can have an allergic reaction to them. People recommend Par boiling them first or generally cooking them ‘thoroughly’, as I do. Fortunately I’m OK with them. They are nice to eat and they do need a longer cooking time I think because they are a little tough. I like the texture to be half way between solid and soft! But because of their texture they’re good for pickling. I haven’t tried that yet but I’ll let you know when I do.

Wood Blewit mushroom in Winter

Wood Blewit alone in the snow

Wood Blewit

Flaming colour – The Charcoal Burner

This is a fine and sturdy mushroom of the woods and one of my favourites, both aesthetically and palatably. Although very common indeed from summer through to autumn, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked so far. But it’s still early autumn and I do get impatient!

The usual haunting ground for the Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha) is in broad leaved woods, mainly with beech. It is part of the very large family of Russulas (there are 200+ in Britain alone) with the majority of well known ones having yellow, blue and green variations in colour.

The Charcoal BurnerThe Charcoal Burner gets it’s common name from the range of colours visible on it’s sturdy, fleshy cap – like the colours of a charcoal flame. Sometimes it can be one colour but often it can be variable. There’s often a mixture of blue and yellow, and in this case, with strong hues of violet and a pinch of blue/grey (you can also get browns and greens going on. This mushroom likes to show off!). The latin name cyanoxantha defines the blue and yellow colours.

This Russula is from a group known as the Brittlegills, and as the name suggests, their gills are very brittle and tend to crumble and break when you touch them. But identification-wise, mushrooms always like to move the goal posts! Because in this case the white gills are not brittle, but in fact quite flexible. What can I say? It’s a rebel Russula and likes to break the rules!

Although quite large, with the cap growing up to 12cm and it’s stem a up to 8cm and 3cm thick, it’s still easy to pass by. Depending on what angle you are coming from you can easily waltz by it. The cap colour is very good camouflage against the woodland floor. So keep a sharp eye out. I always tend to find these beauties growing nearby the Common Yellow Russula (or the Common Yellow Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)) They are of a similar size and have an ochre yellow cap, and not as tasty as our Charcoal Burner.

One thing I have to say about Brittlegills, or more so – about slugs, is that the latter do really enjoy a nibble, and I mean a nibble. I think the slugs prefer the yellow and green species because it’s not often I find one in pristine condition. They are, at some stage or another, left mutilated by those hungry slime bugs! Still, it’s as much their find as it is mine! They do have a head start by living there though – and that’s just not fair!

Charcoal Burner

Purple/blue/yellow cap – thick white stem and white gills which are sometimes forked.

Charcoal Burner. Russula Identification.

The Genus RUSSULA (Brittlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Simple stems with no ring or volva.
• Many have bright colours in shades of red, yellow, greenish and purple (or mixtures of). A few are pallid.
• Whole fruting body is ‘brittle’ (granular and fragile) and will easily crumble, break on handling.
• All have straight (precise geometric look) gills. These crumble (on all but one species) when touched/handled; hence brittlegill.
• Note how much the cap cuticle/skin ‘peels’ from the margin upwards (.ie. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or none etc).
• Note smells and tastes of hot, bitter or mild from nibbling & spitting (be sure you’re dealing with Russulas!).