As summer moves on into Autumn the late-summer foraging of fruit and greens recedes into more of a specialised mushrooming time. Yeah, there are some apples left on the trees, but the blackberries are way past their best now and we've enough greens on the allotment and in the garden such that we don't need to be gathering them wild right now.
And as we move on into Autumn the kind of mushrooms we find changes too - in a typical suburb we get fewer Boletus and Suillus, and the assorted Agaricus and the like slowly tail off. By October, providing we've had enough rain to make the ground soggy on occasion, my main mushroom of choice is the blewit.
Specifically, I mean the field blewit, Lepista saeva. This one here...
This mushroom is, just sometimes, rudiculously plentiful in the UK. I've found it from the Scottish borders down to the South Coast. And in my opinion it is one of the finest wild mushrooms we have - its got an intense flavour, a meaty texture, its filling, and it is easy to identify.
Mostly it grows in rings, on grass, and its one of the many organic matter degraders that isn't just tolerant of mowing but seems to thrive where grass clippings are continuously reapplied to the ground. And as we mow the grass progressively less as the days get shorter and cooler, you can often find great rings of it after rain from late September onwards. Sometimes you find it frozen in place in December, no worse off for it.
Its ridiculously easy to identify. The cap is smooth, sort of buttery and brown, and the underside has quite crowded gills that make a pink spore print if you need to do so. They aren't quite attached to the stem, and they're pale brown with maybe a touch of pinkishness sometimes. The stem is fibrous and has a purple tinge to it, which is a giveaway. And the smell is floral-mushroomy, intense and pleasant.
Here's a closer look at one...
There are a couple of rather more purple Cortinarius species you could maybe mistake for it, if you were an idiot, but it would be hard. This really is one of the easiest shrooms to ID.
It has a long history of use wherever it grows, which is why it has so many common names. Bluey, blue leg, bluebutton etc. all referring to the distinctive purple stem. It is especially popular in the East Midlands, and I've seen crates of it for sale in greengrocers in Nottingham, Beeston and Long Eaton. I was once stopped by a copper in Nottingham who wanted to know what I was doing under the trees in a park with a knife in my hand, and when I showed him what I was picking he was delighted to relate how his mum used to cook 'blueys' for him as a kid.
The only down-side to blewits is that they've a tendency to get water-logged. They soak up water like a sponge, which you need to be aware of when cooking them. Maybe you'll need to cook them a bit longer to get the water out of them if you need them drier in a dish, or just add less wine or stock in a stew.
The ways of cooking it are many and varied, and I don't intend to bore you with loads of recipes needlessly repeating what you can find elsewhere. So I'll restrict myself to a few ideas that might wet your appetite.
1 pigeon (or partridge, or half a pheasant) per person
Enough field blewits to cover the top of the stew pot
Stock (chicken or game)
Onion, carrot, celery
About a dessertspoon full of juniper berries
Salt, pepper, flour
Chop a couple of celery sticks, an onion, and a carrot fine and brown them slowly in a stew pot. Take them out, and coat the birds in well seasoned flour. Brown them in the same pan, add in enough wine and stock to half cover them and put the sauteed veg and crushed garlic clove back in. Squash the juniper berries and drop them in, along with the mushrooms. Bring it to the boil and pop it in the oven for about an hour at 180C, turning the birds over half way through. Serve it with mashed spuds and steamed greens, its a delicious seasonal stew.
Salt and pepper
This recipe makes the most of the intense flavour of this mushroom. Chop the mushrooms, sautee them off with a bit of butter, and when they're cooked and starting to dry up just a but add in the garlic and parsley, just until they're soft. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool down.
Put the cooked shrooms with a scoop of cream cheese (Philadephia is fine) in a blender, and zuzz them about until they're a pate consistency. Taste and season further if you need to, flatten it in a dish, and chill it until its set. Serve it with crackers or toast.
Blewits and Pasta
Salt and pepper
This is based on the traditional way of cooking blewits in Nottingham, but I think its a bit better to serve with pasta than with mashed potato.
Chop and sautee the blewit stems with a chopped onion. Mix in a couple of spoons of flour, and slowly add milk to form a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and handfull of chopped parsley, and add the mushroom caps (sliced) and cook for ten minutes or so. Keep it on the heat until the flour is fully cooked out. Mix it in with cooked pasta, and serve.
If you were doing this in Nottingham in the 1930s you'd serve it in a well in the middle of a plate of mashed spuds, and you'd have cooked it for an hour. I like it a little less over-cooked, and seasoned with lots of pepper, tossed into pasta.