Imagine one glorious September day. The sun was shining, there was a bit of warmth in the air. A perfect day for foraging. We gather at Vogrie Country Park, near Dalkeith to discover the fruits of autumn.
Our focus is on fungi. Our hosts are Edinburgh Larder, our forager Ali Murfitt. Fungi are the most challenging foraged item to gather. Most of us wouldn’t like to risk choosing something that could make us ill. Many restaurants including Edinburgh Larder Bistro now have foraged items on the menu the perfect way to discover new tastes and flavours collected by someone who knows what they are doing! Would we find some edible gems today?
Our group sets off from the car park and no more than a 100 metres from our starting point, Ali points out a large oak tree. (Oak and Birch trees were going to feature highly in this walk). The foot of the tree was covered in what we discover is honey fungus, a sign that the tree was in trouble. This type of fungi permeates throughout the tree and gradually weakens it. Looking up, you could see that the leaves were very sparse, this was a tree at the end of its life.
We’ve all heard horror stories of people eating the wrong type of fungi. Ali explained that opinions change too. There are books which label fungi as edible, but subsequently scientists have found that eating the fungi over a long period builds up toxins in the body. And then there are other fungi which are edible, but taste frankly awful. Although honey fungus is edible, it’s not at all tasty.
Some fungi are pretty easy to identify and difficult to confuse with other more toxic types. The porcelain fungi is covering some of the branches on that poor oak tree. This shimmers just like fine china. Just wash off the slime before you eat! Ali cautions us and suggests we always double check whether something is edible. A spore print helps. Here, you place the cap of the funghi on paper overnight and a spore print is formed which can put you in the right direction.
It becomes a treasure hunt. We look up as well as down, seeking out the tiny and quite enormous. Although of course, we want to find something edible, it’s great fun to discover all sorts of fungi from the very tiniest specs of blue, to some truly monstrous looking ones that look like something out of Harry Potter. Ali explains how ephemeral they are. You visit a spot one day and there’s nothing, just a few days later there can be hundreds.
We discover our second fungi that’s edible. It’s also one that’s very easy to identify and hard to confuse with other species: the puff ball. These can grow pretty large, but today’s are petite and perfectly formed. Ali swiftly cuts one in half to show a creamy white interior. Perfect. If there was any brown, it should be rejected. One member of our team gathers many of these to try later at home. Leaving, as is good practice, just a few behind.
After a fascinating morning, we retire to tables and benches and feast on sandwiches, crisps and drinks. Ali rounds up the day by showing us chanterelles she’d foraged in Fife and showed us how to spot the difference between those and false chanterelles. True chanterelles have disctinctly separate veins.
We discover hedgehog mushrooms which are again very difficult to confuse with anything else and finally some books to inspire us for future visits.
The Edinburgh Larder runs regular foraging trips. The next is on 20 October. Pre-booking is essential. Highly recommended.
Read more about Foraging
A great book – Scotland’s Wild Harvest
Foraging at the Royal Botanic Gardens including an encounter with Rene Redzepi
Discover more about Scotland’s wild plants at Plantlife Scotland
Our review of the Edinburgh Larder Bistro.
Edinburgh Larder Cafe:
15 Blackfriars Street Edinburgh EH1 1NB.
Open daily – hours vary, please check cafe page for up to date details.
0131 556 6922
Edinburgh Larder Bistro:
1a Alva Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PH.
Open 12pm – 2.30pm & 5.30pm – 10pm (pre theatre 5.30pm – 6.30pm)
Monday -Saturday. Closed Sundays.
0131 225 4599