3 November 2014
Ghoulish autumn visitors
It's Halloween today, the 31st October 2014, and I'm sitting outside on the steps of the studio to write this journal entry. My intention had been to write inside but the weather is so unseasonably mild it seemed a shame to miss out on what is undoubtedly a beautiful day. There are weather rumours circling of hard cold weather just around the corner and calls that it's likely to be the worst winter for x number of years, but as the sun casts warm mellow light through the beech topiary here at Allt-y-bela, winter still seems a very long way off indeed.
One of the unexpected joys this autumn has been the shaggy ink cap mushrooms. They first appeared by the hen house near the studio, just a small group of strong white nodules in the grass. Over the next couple of days they grew steadily out of the grass forming narrow bell shaped caps. Britt, who takes such fantastic photos to accompany these words, took dozens of photographs over the course of a day, and during that day many of the mushrooms opened to form large flat discs before starting to disintegrate, dripping black goo onto the grass.
Over the next week or so the ink caps came relentlessly, and by the middle of last week a patch of several square meters existed with mushrooms at all of their various stages of growth and subsequent decay, I couldn't possibly bring myself to mow them down, and so the grass has been left a little long.
This week I started to notice them in other places too, up in the wild flower bank behind the house, in the grass by the stream; they are popping up everywhere. It's such a lovely surprise to see them but additionally, they are edible and so they have provided a rare treat at meal times too.
Ink caps are best eaten young. Their tendency to decay rapidly means they are not suitable for storing; even in a fridge they will rapidly become a wet black mess! So eat them young and fresh!
As a serious note of caution however, I would suggest that you never eat wild mushrooms unless you are 100% sure of their species. Many mushrooms bear a remarkable similarity to their edible counterparts but are very poisonous. Being something of a novice myself I have been inspired to look at booking myself onto a mushroom foraging course. There are plenty available, and of course now is the perfect time to learn from more seasoned professionals!
I find autumn such a joy after the frenetic pace of summer, the darker evenings are now forcing me to go home a bit earlier and the garden is becoming less demanding, allowing me to catch up on some of the jobs that got away from me in the summer. I had a lovely surprise this week when I cut down the long grass near to the kitchen garden only to discover a very pretty stream that had become choked with vegetation. I'll certainly try to keep that a bit clearer next year! Will this beautiful mild weather last? It most certainly won't, so whatever you do, enjoy it while the sun continues to grace us with such strong beams of warmth!
Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer