Predicting the mushroom season and cider.

Every year people ask me what the mushroom season will be like, that is – when it will arrive and how big the crop. I always tell them and am nearly always wrong. The fungi appear in response to wet weather, so fungi-forecasting is indistinguishable from weather forecasting, ie impossible for more than a few days.
But I wish I could do it nonetheless. I have to arrange my forays to coincide with the mushrooms, otherwise people can be a little disappointed even if they still have a good time. I run most of them in October because that is the most reliable month. But if I had known what I know now – that it was going to rain a lot and there would be mushrooms everywhere - I would be taking mushroom forays this coming weekend (10th/11th September 2011). This is why I have squeezed in another foraging course for the 16th September. I have seen giant puffballs, parasols, horse mushrooms and hedgehog mushrooms as well as some very interesting, inedible species such as Entoloma eccentricum and Boletus radicans. But I don't even have to look at the weather or leave the house to know there is a lot out there - the number of people calling me up, emailing or, frequently, knocking on my door to ask me if they can eat this or that tells me all I need to know. And also the Mushroom Handbook Amazon ranking is a slave to the season and now standing at a gratifying 512th (out of around 2 million books) after languishing at the 3,000 mark since last February.
The only forecasting method that seem to work is the (completely anecdotal) rule of two. If you get a really good year then the next year will be really good too and probably better. Bad years seem to come in pairs as well. This promises to be a bumper year as last year was great. But, of course, I could be completely wrong. Yet again.

I have been writing a bi-monthly blog (link does not always show latest entry) for the Guardian on home-brewing using, mostly, foraged ingredients. It has been great fun though a bit of a worry as I have to work to strict deadlines and I have to get it right. There are a lot of excellent experienced brewers around and they can spot a poor recipe at one hundred paces. Next week I will, probably, be making cider. The apple crop this year promises to be enormous – as have been most fruit crops. I was going to use “wildings” or crabs but a trip to my Mum’s for her 90th birthday gave me the chance to raid her apple trees (her apple tree climbing days are over) and get enough to make my brew.

Her lovely Comice pear tree had shed its fruit so I scrabbled around picking up any that were at least “good in parts”. I am drying the best of these in my little electric drier. I peeled and quartered them and removed the core. Then I sprinkled quite of bit of sugar on them and added some citric acid to give an extra bite. The sugar and acid, as well as improving the flavour, draw out some of the water, giving the drying process a head start. This also ensures they do not rot before they dry. I made some last year and they were absolutely delicious. If anyone wanted to make dried pears from wild pears they are likely to be unlucky. Wild pear is very rare and the fruit general small and hard. A pity.
There were a lot of bruised-but-not rotten pears as well as the cores left over from those to be dried, so I am making a Perry.


John Wright: 8th Sep 2011 10:00:00

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