15 SEPTEMBER 1961, Page 29

Consuming Interest

Earthy and Airy


FUNGI have had a bad press ever since the Emperor Claudius succumbed to a poisonous mushroom, and in this country it is almost an article of faith that, with the profitable exception of the Field Mushroom, fungi are venomous toadstools tampered with only by fools and fairies.

Yet it is less than fifty years since edible fungi, still commonplace °I1 the Continent, disappeared from the markets in England. And now, with the enormous com- Mercial cultivation of the common Field Mush- rnturl, we •have become so used to something White and rather insipid that all the delicate and delicious fungi that grow in the woods are left in the ground to rot.

At this time of year, in countries with more kitchen sense than our own, edible fungi are breught into the markets (where fungi inspectors ensure that nothing dangerous is offered for sale) and the housewife has only to step down the ,31reet and make her choice. In England, it is u„uWn to the woods—every- man his own fungi rarnier and inspector.

This is not as hazardous as it sounds and the timid gastronome can take comfort in the fact that the more epicurean fungi are quite un- lUistakable. There is no danger of confusing h either the inverted orange-coloured trumpet of te Chanterelle, the fleshy-brown Boletus (Cep) ,fitted with tubes in place of gills, or the round noneycombed Morel with any of the toxic toad- stools. Their characteristics are obvious.

, The most lethal fungus in England is the mild- 1,00king Death Cap (Amanita Phalloides), which Is alarmingly similar in appearance to the much- trusted Field Mushroom, for which it is occa- sionally mistaken (a mistake that is unlikely to `ie made with the Death Cap's closest relation, at, showy red toadstool spotted with white). Dr. 'kantsbottom, a leading British expert on fungi, °tes that no one in Britain is known to have :led through deliberately selecting and eating an' • ..bvinus toadstool. But people have come to an 4.gonising end by picking a Death Cap in mis- take for a Field Mushroom. The most vital piece of equipment for anyone interested in using edible fungi in the kitchen is an illustrated textbook. Always check what has been picked against the pictures; in doubtful cases, throw them away. During the last war wild fungi provided a way of varying the montonous diet. At that time there were three useful books in print, all of them cheap, pocket- sized and well supplied with large colour plates. Two of them, alas, are now unobtainable, a King Penguin and an inspired pamphlet pub- lished by the Stationery Office for the Ministry of Agriculture. The survivor is a little guide published by Observer Books at 5s., Book of Common Fungi, by E. M. Wakefield.

I have asked Penguin Books and the Ministry of Agriculture about the reprinting of their books. Both seemed to think that the existence of the other's book rendered their own super- fluous. So much for market research in the book trade. However, there is still that 'anatomy of toadstools,' Dr. John Ramsbottom's Mushrooms and Toadstools, in the Collins New Naturalist series. It is too large to take on walks in the woods, but it is tailor-made for the naturalist- cum-gourmet with a penchant for off-beat historical detail, folk-tales and witchcraft. It also dismisses as totally unreliable the various old wives' ways of testing mushrooms for poisons.

When it comes to using fungi in the kitchen, the best modern guide I've seen is the fascinating chapter in Patience Gray's Plats du Jour (Pen- guin, 3s. 64.). It includes an exciting little collec- tion of recipes drawn from France and Italy, as well as some straightforward advice on select- ing and handling edible fungi.

Very rarely, culinary fungi can be found in the shops. 1 have bought chanterelles in Roche (14 Old Compton Street, WI) and c'epes at the Continental Fruit Stores in the same street, and in the north, during the autumn, Blewits and Morels occasionally find their way on to the stalls in country markets.

Chanterelles also come from France and Ger- many in tins, but their flavour is too elusive to survive the process. The dried apes, on the other hand, make rich addition to winter soups and stews.

AN innovation at this year's Farnborough Air IShow--a formation of light aeroplanes flown by amateur pilots—must have started many people besides myself wondering just how difficult and expensive it is to learn to fly. Almost anyone who can drive a car, I am assured, can drive an aero- plane. Learning, however, is not cheap—WO being the least you can expect to pay before gain- ing a Private Pilot's Licence, which entitles you to carry passengers, though not for 'hire or reward.'

First there is a medical examination by your own doctor. (Is he free from any evidence of syphilis?' is, surprisingly, one of the questions on the form), which isn't as formidable as it looks on paper. Then, all that is required is a Student Pilot's Licence and membership of a flying club. In the London area there is a choice of five, all about an hour's drive out. Most clubs now have comfortable cabin aircraft where you sit beside your instructor; the old wind-in-the- face Tiger Moths are on the way out.

Instruction costs about £5 per flying hour, and forty hours' mixed dual and solo are needed to get a licence—or a shorter course of thirty hours if you can complete this within six months. Apart from flying, the course includes written tests in meteorology, aviation law, navigation, theory of flight, etc: thorough, but all on a fairly simple level. The risk of accidents is now relatively slight; the greater danger facing the amateur pilot, apparently, is of breaking the law; the sort of gaffe which would cost a motorist flO for driving without due care may cost a pilot £200 —and the Ministry of Aviation is a stern prosecutor.

For information, you can apply to the Associa- tion of British Aero Clubs, 7c Lower Belgrave Street, SW1 (SLOane 1864).