Field mushrooms. Champignons. Many of us know their cultivated cousins well – the “white button” store variety. An interesting fact is that the classic “Denny” mushroom is actually the same mushroom as a portobello or brown mushroom, just picked at a different stage of growth. But today I’m writing about the wild (and far tastier) relative of this popular mushroom, which is known to mycophiles as Agaricus campestris.
It’s nearly impossible to drive alongside green pastures in the autumn and winter months without spotting little white buttons emerging from the grass. These mushrooms have a preference for well-manicured lawns and fields, and I find that there is a good chance of finding this “white gold” after rain wherever cattle graze.
Field mushrooms are delicate little fungi with their most prominent feature being their pink gills when at an early stage of growth, turning chocolate-brown as they age and eventually nearly black – very similar to the store-bought variety of the portobello. Unlike the colour of their cap (which can be white to grey), Field mushrooms never have white gills and you should toss aside any mushroom that does. Even in the “button” phase, it is easy to confuse Field mushrooms with a deadly variety – it’s best to let them open first before picking. Another important feature to look out for is yellow staining, for you see, there is a nasty and toxic-to-some relative of the Field mushroom called the Yellow Stainer; it looks similar, but stains and bruises yellow along the stem. Unfortunately this variety also has pink-to-brown gills but possesses an unpleasant smell that is similar to disinfectant chemicals. A good way to test is to scratch the base of the stem and leave it for a while – did it go yellow? Does it smell bad? If not, you’re in luck. Field mushrooms never stain or bruise yellow, and have been known to bruise slightly pink and smell like that classic “mushroomy” smell, which is quite pleasant.
Personally I find the store-bought variety bland and lacking in flavour. If you cook them up with herbs, wine and garlic, your dish will only taste like herbs, wine and garlic. But with Field mushrooms, new possibilities emerge in the culinary sense. Slightly creamy, buttery and richer than the cultivated mushrooms sitting in cold storage right now. It’s totally worth trekking around to find yourself some fresh Field mushrooms, for you will have a treat from nature’s bounty that you just can’t buy at the store.