Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mushrooms make the French ill.

August 9 2011.    In the past three weeks, 94 mms (nearly four inches) of rain has fallen.  After the heat and drought of the previous months, this has resulted in a flush of toadstools of many species.  Many of the French who retain a strong folk memory of starvation on a diet of  snails, thrushes and toadstools, take advantage of this glut and invade the countryside to collect and eat.  Unfortunately for them, the folk memory does not tell them the difference between the edible and the toxic.
Within the past two weeks the Centre of  Toxicology  at Toulouse has had a flood of inquiries on toadstool poisoning.  Eight people were hospitalised at Cahors, four at St. Céré, two at Figeac.  Village pharmacists all have a training in toadstool recognition,  but few are thoroughly knowledgeable.
The local paper says that the usual culprit was the Satan's mushroom.   What they should have eaten were the cepes.

To the left is the Satan.
It has a pale top about the size of a large dinner plate.The stem is fat and mostly red and the flesh is a bright yellow which changes to blue when cut. The pores below the cap are bright red.
The  cepe is on the right.   They can also be large, though usually a little smaller than the Satan. It is a brown colour. The pores begin white and turn to dirty yellow as they age.  The stem is also a pale brown and the flesh is white and hardly changes when it is cut.  The stem also has a net like pattern on it.   I add that the stem of Satan's toadstool also has a net on it, though in that case the net is whitish yellow on a reddish background.
A basket of cepes
It is almost impossible for anyone but a total innocent to mistake the two.  I suspect that the newspaper journalists don't know the cepe from the others either!  The unfortunate people probably ate something else. 
One can quite easily make mistakes of identification with other genera of toadstools, but anyone who is not certain should never eat any toadstool.
The cepes fetch large prices at the markets - ten euros a kilo is not exceptional.  They are not worth it.  Always, I guarantee it,  if one shows a French person some toadstools in a wood or field, they ask "Can you eat it?".  I reply - "You can eat any toadstool once!"