By Concepta Cassar, published on Litro Magazine‘s website, 26 August 2015
“Therefore I give my simple advice unto those that love such strange and newe-fangled meates, to beware licking honey among thornes, least the sweetness of the one do not countervaile the sharpnes and prickling of the other.”
– John Gerard, The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597
There are few people out there who will share my enthusiasm for the gathering grey skies that have come to define the last couple of weeks. As balmy summer days picking canalside raspberries give way to the familiar damp of insolent British drizzle, my mounting excitement has been difficult to hem in. Pulling on my wellington boots, I know that the arrival of rain after a warm summer can only mean one thing: mushrooms.
I am what Lorna Bunyard once referred to as “a confirmed toadstool eater”, always keeping half an eye out for these mysterious fruits of the earth. It is no wonder that Mrs Bunyard’s chapter on mushrooms should follow a chapter entitled Strange Meats, however, as this is, historically, how they have been perceived by the British. John Gerard, perhaps our most revered botanist, was certainly not a fan, affirming that they “do hunger after the earthie excrescences” – an association he makes more than once – whilst noting their habit of popping up on the “rotting bodies of trees” in “dankish”, “shadowie”places. Gerard dismisses fungi as “unproffitable” and “nothing worth”, repeatedly warning the reader that they are “full of poison” and “deadly”.