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Look in the autumn issues of the magazines in France, and you will see pictures of mushrooms...artily arranged on the kitchen counter of a tarted up Provencal mas if it's something like 'Maison et Jardin', or barely distinguishable from the mucky hands holding them if it is more like the 'Chasseur Francais'.
You will see people emerging from woodlands...not furtively, in the nature of those who by some wild co incidence have just met a member of the opposite sex who happened to be wandering in the same woodland at the same time - probably looking for the common stinkhorn......but openly, bearing containers.
Some, the ones in smart sludge coloured 'outdoor' clothing, will be carrying panniers...these are the eco conscious who think that this allows the spores of the mushrooms, dropping through the slats, to propagate themselves on the journey from the wood to their car - if they also want mushrooms propagating in the boot of their car as the spores fall through the slats on the journey home, well, good luck to them.
Others, wearing brightly coloured clothing bearing no distinguishable designer name anywhere about it, have buckets, or those disgusting plastic trugs sold by all self respecting French garden centres. They clearly have no wish to have mushrooms propagating themselves in their cars.
This is one occasion when the yellow baskets optimistically issued by local authorities for rubbish recycling will not be in evidence...too many holes. And anyway it would mean moving the rabbits.
You will wish to participate in this quintessential French pastime.....where to start?
By all means buy an illustrated guide to mushrooms and do a little preliminary research on what grows in which conditions and at what time of year, which will save you from looking for blewits in October.
Do not take it with you while you go mushroom hunting otherwise you will spend the time you should be using to pick them deliberating in a huddle over whether that one that Angie has just picked is a coulemelle or something nasty that will lay you low in revenge for you pulling it up.
Neither should you go to one of those mycological society exhibitions which proliferate in damp autumns all over France.
You will only frighten yourself.
I have been mushroom picking for years and they still frighten me.
You enter the salle de fetes to find that long tables have been set up with every sort of fungus the dedicated local enthusiasts could find, laid out and neatly labelled with latin names...and sinister indications of their level of toxicity.
For inducing alarming palpitations there is nothing like encountering something proudly labelled with a skull and crossbones which bears a close resemblance to what you have just eaten for lunch.
Every pharmacy will have large posters of mushrooms on display at this time of year and, in theory you can bring in your collection for identification, thus avoiding being brought in yourself for medication.
In practice, you won't learn very much as the modern pharmacist doesn't tend to be a mushroom fanatic and will just advise you to put anything that isn't obviously harmless in the dustbin...which is not the object of the exercise.
It was the stuff you weren't sure about that you wanted identified, not the stuff that was clearly edible.
Where I first lived in France, the village next door had a renowned mushroom fanatic in the pharmacy and in the season it was a toss up whether there were more people carrying mushrooms in or more people carrying suppositories out.
One thing was clear...mushrooms had priority.
You could be in the midst of discussing whether the Elixir of l'Abbe Perdrigeon for emotional shock was better in your particular case than Baume de Perou for the skin eruption following said shock or whether you should use both to be on the safe side except that in neither case would you be able to claim the cost back from social security... when a man with a bucket would enter and your skin eruptions would have to await the verdict on its contents.
You could learn a lot from the lecture that accompanied the spreading of the contents onto the plastic tray used out of season for weighing babies.
Gills, rings round the stems, bulbous or straight stems, colours, all had their significance and no collector got away without undergoing a brief examination in what what he had been told, so it was no wonder that there were no fatalities in that pharmacist's bailiwick.
I had picked up my mushroom lore from Gerard, who discovered the oyster mushrooms growing on the poplars at the back of my field and who believed in the value of a practical demonstration of what grew where....thus it was imprudent to pick mushrooms on the verges as they picked up lead from passing traffic no matter how edible they might be otherwise.....you could tell the false panther from the real by breaking the stem and looking for the pink threads.... which ceps were worth gathering and which were not worth bothering with.
Thanks to him I ate decidedly suspicious looking stuff with no ill effects, but there were still little quirks to learn.
If you were susceptible...and it was as well not to experiment to find out whether or not you were...eating shaggy caps and drinking wine with the same meal would have you carted away in an ambulance, so it was best to gather them just before eating them for breakfast.
Mark you, thinking of some of the gentlemen of my acquaintance, there was no guarantee that they had not drink taken at no matter what early hour of the morning, so I have to suppose that they were just not susceptible....or avoided shaggy caps on principle.
If you are looking for field mushrooms, they can easily be confused with the yellow stainer, which is unpleasant rather than toxic. The trick is to scratch through the skin and look for a yellow tinge...but if you miss it it's not a disaster. Just try cooking them and you'll have a pan of yellow liquid...sure sign to chuck them out and try another field.
Something no one locally will touch are the big horse mushrooms...distinguished from field mushrooms by the slight smell of anise on the cap. I've eaten them for years with no ill effects and benefit from local lack of enthusiasm to fill my buckets and then the freezer.
Puffballs are super when young, sliced and cooked in butter....but the best of all are the coulemelles, parasol mushrooms, growing in clusters in open woodland.
They are, for me, the queens of the mushroom family...rising pale and elegant from the autumn leaves around their base to take home for immediate consumption with butter and parsley....and to resurrect from the freezer as a garnish to chicken through the wild, cold months of winter.
I don't know who you can find to help you learn about mushrooms....some people are very careful to guard the source of their supply, particularly if it happens to be in the enclosed grounds of the chateau up the road where they have no right to be...whereas others are delighted to share their passion.
I suppose you just have to drop onto the right person.
But there is one thing I do know.
Even if you take a pannier, do not wear sludge coloured outdoor clothing.
Follow the example of the plastic bucket merchants and wear something bright, because the mushroom season coincides with that of the chasse, short sighted gentlemen who think anything that moves is one of the specially reared pheasants that their association has released the day before to provide them with 'sport'.
Even they know, however, that pheasants are not bright red or yellow and that they are forbidden to shoot at parrots and canaries, so wear something bright and your backside will be safe from a peppering of shots.....
Wear sludge and as you leave your hospital bed you may well be humming to yourself that well known French folk song
'Nous n'irons plus aux bois.....'