Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Avenas, in the hills of Haut-Beaujolais, is never livelier than on an autumnal Sunday morning. Convoys of trail bikes thump past, riders as gaudily armoured and accoutred as  knights of old. Big 4x4s park up along the road, with corrugated kennels bolted onto the back for the hunting dogs. As I rootled about at the front of the house, the jingling of bells heralded the arrival, not of a herd of goats, but of a sedate beagle, in company with a weekend warrior, a stout gentleman in his sixties, clad in camouflage and webbing, puffing on his pipe and jauntily swinging his 12-bore shotgun.

 Fortunately, as I was not wearing a bell, I'd already taken my own walk up the hill on Friday. Harebells were still in flower, and there were berries all around; and lots of fungus, including this fine parasol mushroom that had evaded the hunter gatherers.

...and lots of Fly Agaric, looking rather beautiful. By the way, did you ever hear of a book called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross? -Christ as a magic mushroom.... one of those culty books of the 70s.

"Anne's son was in Scotland, and he found lots and lots of mushrooms," said Marta. "He asked the locals if it was OK to pick them, and they said 'Go ahead! We never eat those things!' So he filled two rucksacks with them, hitched to Paris and sold them for lots and lots of money. Went back, every autumn. Paid his way through university with those mushrooms."

They do take their mushrooms far more seriously than we do. In Cluny, a hall was full of tables covered in loads and loads of different species, dutifully labelled and described.

...and the experts were on hand to pick through the offerings brought by visitors.


  1. Ooh, look at that lovely fat fly agaric! :-)

  2. Agreed about fly agaric --- the mushroom of choice for fairy tales. They're gorgeous. Allegro's book is nonsense but good fun. The fly agaric, according to one or two outlying scholars, is the inspiration for Santa's uniform. Paul Muldoon got a very good poem out of that in Quoof.

  3. Looks like you had a marvellous trip.

    I used to love the chemists windows each autumn when they would put out their display of fungi models, you could take your basket of mushrooms to be checked over to save them having to treat you later...

    See very few windows like that now and even the French do not do hunter gathering quite like they used to.

  4. I knew Cluny rang a gastronomic bell, the plate of chocolate deserts was so good we had it two nights running. They really like their food in that part of France...

  5. I was just going to say about the pharmacies checking over the mushrooms for you, but Caroline beat me to it. I was brought up never to trust anything except the common mushroom, so I gather mine from the supermarket. You can even get bags of a mixture of frozen ones.


  6. Ever the frugal one; I have tried eating the odd mushroom growing in the woodland. It is however, possible to makes oneself ill just by thinking of poisonous fungi and I can often induce a slight nausea just by worrying after the event.

  7. sorry for slow reply, everyone; it slipped through the net...

    Thanks for the heads up on Muldoon, Tim- shall hunt the poem down...

    I suspect we were at the same cafe, C; does this ring any bells?


    I'm cautious these days about what fungus I eat; back in my more experimental days I ate all sorts of things hoping that they would prove to be liberty caps (psilocybe semilenteaca)before learning how to recognise the proper ones. Which goes to show, probably, that censoring that sort of information may not be the best way to deal with it; and/or that fortune favours the fool....