Inky droplets splashed my hands as I foraged for supper this week.
Fearing a permanent tattoo, I hurriedly plucked out the last of a precious shaggy mane clump I’d found growing roadside where only yesterday there was naught.
Popular, common and easy to identify, this eminently edible fungi was destined for my frying pan. Pleasantly flavoured, ‘shaggies’ are delish in soups, omelets, and frittatas or simply cooked in butter and served over toast points. The flesh is white, soft and delicate, but must be cooked immediately as it disintegrates quickly (though the stems last longer). Because of its perishability, this mushroom is not sold at commercial markets.
I’d caught them just in time, as ‘Coprinus comatus’ can fruit as a solid young mushroom, and begin to melt into black goo in 24 to 48 hours. Technically speaking, the gills autodigest or “deliquesce,” turning into black liquid as they mature. Liquefied C. comatus was the writing ink used by monks and ancients.
The most prominent feature of this overall white, gilled mushroom is the bullet-like shape of its scaly cap atop an elevated, smooth white stem. The shaggy’s white gills turn pink, then black, and the spore print is resoundingly black. Firm Shaggy Manes 10 cm (4 in.) or taller, which have not yet begun to dissolve, are considered edible.
Other members of the genus Coprinus are less palatable and even toxic. The closely related C. atramentarius or “alcohol inky” contains coprine, a substance which acts like medicinal Antabuse. Consuming alcoholic beverages of any sort before or after eating these mushrooms causes acute gastric discomfort.
Forage for Shaggy Mane on hard-packed ground, along gravelly roadsides, or in lawns. Home cultivation is possible by placing old, blackened mushrooms and goo in water for a day to release the spores, then pouring the solution over compost or gravel.
‘Tis the season for mushroom hunts. Other edible local fungi include the chanterelle, lobster, cauliflower and hedgehog mushrooms. Be absolutely certain about a mushroom’s identity; this is one area that leaves no margin for error.
E-mail Christine at: firstname.lastname@example.org.