September Foraging: Parasol Mushrooms

Delicious mushrooms reserved for locals

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Hayley Bisofsky Pope
Cornwall dweller, lifestyle blogger and founder of The Little Naturalists Club
12 September 2022

This year's drought has made the summer mushrooms slightly delayed. The fields and headlands that we usually spend our summers in foraging for wax caps, parasols and giant puff balls have been completely empty for the whole of August.

Discover the delights of the Parasol Mushroom

However, the recent downpours this September has finally meant that we’re coming home with full baskets. This month I’d like to introduce you to a mushroom called the parasol mushroom. It’s considered a choice mushroom that is highly prized for its culinary uses but you won’t see it on the stalls of borough market or served in fancy restaurants like other choice wild mushrooms.

The parasol mushroom has a large cap which is quite brittle and easily broken. For that reason, it doesn’t transport too well and the commercial foragers tend to reserve it for their own kitchens rather than shipping it off to the Michelin starred kitchens around the world.

Intermediate foraging

In my opinion this gives this mushroom a special allure. You can only eat it if you forage it for yourself and once you learn how to you will get to enjoy this mushroom for years to come as it’s fairly abundant.

This mushroom is considered an intermediate mushroom to forage as there are a few dangerous lookalikes that you don’t want to confuse it with. Namely the shaggy parasol, the false parasol and the amanita family of mushrooms. However, once you know the basic anatomy of a mushroom it’s easy to learn how to distinguish the difference between the highly prized edible parasol and some of its lookalikes.

Have you spotted them before?

The first thing to note about these mushrooms is that unlike the winter chanterelles that you often see only when you’ve already stood on them, parasols in contrast tend to be easy to spot. If you often walk through fields and headlands at this time of year you will have likely come across them in the past.

As you enter a field you will see their tall 30cm/40cm long stems towering above the grass line and their huge 30cm diameter parasol like mushroom caps spreading flat.

Avoiding Shaggy Parasol

The first kind of mushrooms that these can be confused with are the shaggy parasol mushroom. To the untrained eye they look the same but the shaggy parasol can give people severe gastric upset and many are allergic to it so it’s crucial to look at the stem in order to differentiate the two varieties. The stem of the parasol mushroom is hollow and very fibrous, off white/cream and mottled with a grey/brown snakeskin effect.

The shaggy parasol mushroom does not have this snakeskin effect and is slightly pinky/cream in colour. When you cut a shaggy parasol mushroom the flesh will oxidise to a pinky tone whereas the parasol mushroom will stay white for some time and then slowly oxidise to a brown tone.

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Avoiding False Parasol

The next mushroom you don’t want to confuse this one with is the false parasol mushroom. Most mushroom guides don’t even mention this mushroom as it’s usually only found in North America but in recent years we have seen this occasionally popping up as an exotic alien and a simple check will identify it for you so it’s worth running this check to be sure.

Another name for the false parasol is the green spored mushroom because its spores are green and its gills turn green with age. By doing a simple spore print you will soon be able to see what mushroom you have. Cut the stem off the mushroom and turn the cap gill side down onto a piece of black paper. Leave it for a short period of time and you will see it has deposited its spores on the paper for you to examine.

The spores of the parasol mushroom are white. The false parasol or green spored parasol are obviously a green colour. Although these mushrooms don’t pop up in Cornwall often it’s worth running this test until you become really familiar with foraging for parasols. Better to be safe than sorry and learning to do spore prints is a core skill you will need to acquire as you become more of an intermediate mushroom forager.

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Avoiding Amanita

The last mushroom you want to make sure you haven’t got confused with is the deadly amanita family. The parasol mushroom starts out looking something like a drumstick, before the initially egg-shaped cap opens up to a maximum size of around a foot across (typically between 10-30cm) when fully grown.

If you pick parasol mushrooms in their drumstick form then you can easily confuse them with some members of the amanita family. However, I always suggest not picking mushrooms until their caps are fully extended as mushrooms are essentially the reproductive organs of the mycelium that is underground.

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My safety tips for best practice

The mushrooms can’t reproduce until they release their spores and they can’t release their spores until their cap is fully extended. If you want to keep on foraging from a mushroom spot for years to come, it is in your best interest to only pick mushrooms that have had the opportunity to release their spores (unlike the drumstick one pictured here).

This practice of only picking mushrooms once their caps are fully open will also keep you safe from accidentally picking a deadly lookalike as their differences become more apparent as the mushroom matures.

How to cook and enjoy

If you did want to pick in its drumstick form there are ways to tell them apart relating to the volva base but I will leave you to do more research on this as it is not a practice I personally promote. No Journal on wild mushrooms is complete without the cautionary tag line where I warn you to not consume any mushroom unless you are 100% certain that the mushroom you have is edible and has been identified using multiple identification points. I also recommend that if you’re very new to this, booking sessions with an experienced forager would be a good way to build your confidnece.

Once you’re certain you have parasol mushrooms I recommend coating them in Panko breadcrumbs and deep frying them. Serve with an aioli mayo and lots of grated parmesan. Perfection.

If you are unsure whether a wild mushroom is safe to eat or not, please seek advice from an expert. Eating a poisonous mushroom can be fatal – or at least make you feel very unwell, so don’t risk it. There are many foraging courses you can join where you can be guided by an expert. Foraging is carried out at your own risk.