Country Diary: Recent rainfall has resulted in appearance of fungi

Parasol mushroom  one of our best edible fungi.

Herring gulls are a menace – not kittiwakes, as some believe.

Remember Ray Lonsdale’s sculptures of smugglers on Merchants Row? We’ve recently had to scrub them down once again. Herring gulls are opportunists and scavengers, feeding on all they can scrounge, then leaving their visiting cards, as they perch on smugglers’ heads! Kittiwakes nest on cliffs and high buildings, but fish out at sea, where they return after breeding.

Recent rainfall has resulted in a rapid appearance of fungi, and a perfect ‘fairies’ ring’ some 8ft across on a grass verge beside Stepney Drive. It’s caused by a small toadstool named the Fairy-ring Champignon, and is not edible.

However, four fine specimens of the Parasol mushroom have been discovered since July 19, on grassy roadside verges. This is one of our best edible fungi, and is most distinctive, and can be seen from afar. The ‘parasol’ rises closed, held together by a large white ring. Then it breaks free and opens like an umbrella. The cap is dry and scaly, brown to grey-brown in colour, and with white gills. Look for it between now and November and you’ll love its flavour.

There are several excellent recipes for cooking them, but I do suggest you always remove the stipe (or stem) and the central umbel of the cap, and wash well. I tend to treat them simply by cutting into small pieces and simmering in milk with seasoning and a knob of butter. Then thicken with flour and use a little imagination for a variety of delicious dishes!

We were delighted to find three walnut trees between Mere Lane and Scarborough’s mere bearing walnuts. Green walnuts hung on branches, with several scattered on the ground. The grey tree trunks were characteristic, and one was amazingly sculptured and patterned on the bark.

Close behind the entrance to Mere Cafe, is a tall plant on waste ground, named hemlock. It resembles many other members of the parsley family, but hemlock is poisonous. There have been several deaths among children who’ve used the hollow stems for whistles and pea-shooters. They’ve absorbed enough poison (ie coniine) to kill them. Hemlock is easily identified by its smooth, purple-blotched stems and foetid smell. Silpho, above Hackness, is worth visiting if only to admire its attractive dew pond thronged with tall stalks bearing bright yellow flowers. These are in reality no more than buttercups, but they’re greater spearworts, with narrow leaves that are spear-head shaped. It is less frequently observed than lesser spearwort.

Leaving Silpho and descending towards Hackness, seek along the left, uncut verge, colonies of handsome, stalked blue flowers. The nettle-leaved bellflower had its chopped roots used in a gargle said to give relief from sore throats and tonsillitis.

From the top of Hay Brow below Suffield, seek a most unusual flower which has re-appeared in several areas this year – a sub-species of blue sow thistle!

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