Driving along a country road near a large shimmering reservoir, Daniel Butler suddenly slows down. He jumps out of the driver’s seat and whips out a special knife. In seconds he’s dug up a beautiful specimen, a four-inch cepe. He’s a mushroom forager, par excellence, and yesterday he took us out to learn something about the art.
Butler lectures at a nearby college. On the walls of his old farmhouse, three long rutted miles up a mountain, are photographs of lovely varieties of fungi. He sends out a newsletter about fungus foraging, and is positively giddy when confronted with what he calls “a sexy cepe.”
But isn’t mushroom foraging dangerous? Don’t people die from eating the wrong ones?, we asked. “Actually most poisonous mushrooms will make you really sick, not kill you. But there is that one, the Death Cap. And others. He showed us one variety with a gaudy orange top, with speckles. “That one will make you really high, and then give you the worst hangover you can imagine.”
Foraging was fun, and soon we had a Goldilocks basket of plump cepes. We had a plan. It involved a drive to his house, and a four-course meal. And a few bottles of good French wine.
We emerged at altitude, and looked around the place, a rambling six-bedroom 17th century farmhouse complete with a henhouse full of birds, two raptors cawing in a big enclosure, a curious ferret and a sweeping view of the gorgeous Wales countryside in brilliant, if rare, sunshine. Life was good. Daniel was cooking, he’d make us mushroom soup, and a mushroom-filled quiche, and he’d use a few big cepes in a risotto.
As the crisp dry white was being poured, we were regaled with tales of a pair of mushroom hunters who gorged on so many mushrooms they got sick (apparently there IS such a thing as too much of a good thing!) and of the production of mushrooms in China, where most of them come from. We suggested that he might want to have a B&B up here, what with all of those extra unused bedrooms. “There is a saying,” he said, “fish and visitors stink after three days. I had guests up her for six weeks once. It’s true.”