Wild field mushrooms galore in the middle of August is definitely a first for me and evidence that more than ever we need to remain flexible in our expectations of climate, weather and plants.
Being a country boy has always been special in feeling close to the land and nature, more-so from July to October when Richard Maybe’s classic Food For Free really had meaning.
It would begin with the discovery of wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca), the presence of a patch betrayed by feeding birds. With some the size of cherries, that was a real treat.
Gooseberries or crab apples growing in a hedgerow were next up. Who cared if they had not yet ripened? We certainly didn’t at the time but paid for it later!
They were being collected with jelly-making in mind but where was the harm in trying one or two?
Elder flowers and berries were not for eating of course but we still picked corymbs of them safe in the knowledge that once home, they’d be processed into wine with a kick for Christmas. Sloes, the fruits of blackthorn, were gathered with a similar purpose in mind.
Wild cherries and damsons from local hedgerows always seemed plentiful, then with the onset of autumn came three favourites; blackberries, hazelnuts and mushrooms. Knowing where the best sites were for picking these was as important as being street-wise in a city.
Bramble-picking was and remains so popular that the autumn school half-term period was simply bramble week to many. Bushes of wild hazelnut (Corylus avellana) can still be found in clusters near a water source.
The fruits have formed in clusters by early August but are not fully ripened until late October. Then there was the autumnal treat of mushrooms.
Early October, occasionally late September, has always heralded their emergence in our local fields, so imagine the surprise at discovering them barely into the second week of August, since which they have continued to appear. And it’s not just down near the coast. On a recent journey from Alnwick to Rothbury, one chap walking a field next to the road had a bagful.
Their appearance did coincide with a definite dip in the evening temperatures after prolonged warmth, and there had been a sudden, heavy downpour. This is the only logical explanation I see. As to the other foods for free mentioned, they still exist in abundance but this fellow chooses to observe them now rather than deprive our wildlife of a potential lifeline.
After all, every one of them; plum, gooseberry, nut, et al has a counterpart that can be grown in the garden.