This delectable spring wild mushroom (Calocybe gambosa) has a unique flavour and texture, quite unlike anything from a supermarket. Learn how to find and identify this top culinary mushroom and get recipe ideas.
Spring is a joyous time of year. A time when my favourite wild mushroom starts springing up on grassy verges, ready for my breakfast.
Known as St. George’s Mushroom in the UK, Vårmousseron in Scandinavia or by its Latin name, Calocybe gambosa, this delectable foraged delight grows in fields, by the side of roads, the edge of woodland and on patches of grass throughout Europe, North America, Russia and Japan.
I have found them on the edges of woodland, in people’s gardens, even growing all over my housing complex – I could literally look out of the window of my flat, spot a few mushrooms and pop out to the best shop in the world. The shop where super nutritious and delicious food is always available and everything is free – nature!
Quite distinctly different from the button mushrooms people normally eat – the flesh is very firm and the taste is unique and pronounced. I highly recommended you seek these mushrooms out.
Identifying St. George’s mushrooms
It is important to pore over a mushroom book or two, especially if you haven’t picked these mushroom before (my favourite mushroom identification book is a good place to start). Reassuringly, you will find that there aren’t really any other mushrooms out at this time (spring) to confuse them with, so identification is relatively simple with these mushrooms.
If your loved ones are a little suspicious of the mushrooms, encourage them to read the descriptions in the books and make an identification themselves (always good to have a second opinion anyway). Caveats aside, here are some pointers to get you started.
- These mushrooms are very firm and solid feeling – heavy for their size
- They are white and/or cream coloured
- The rim of the cap curls under slightly
- The gills are very close together
- The smell is a key identifier – I have read it described in many abstract ways that I was never able to really imagine, but the best descriptor I have heard is they smell like Play-Doh. If you remember what that smells like, it will really help you here!
- A final factor to inspire confidence in identifying these mushrooms is there are basically no other similar mushrooms growing in spring
Cleaning St. George’s mushrooms
I don’t usually wash my mushrooms, but if they are very dirty you can trim and lightly scrape the stems clean with a sharp knife, rinse them under the tap and dry them on a tea towel.
They will come up absolutely beautifully.
Cooking St. George’s mushrooms
There are literally endless ways to cook these mushrooms – they don’t give up as much water as some other wild mushrooms and hold their firm texture well during cooking. They are particularly good cooked classically – sautéed in butter, garlic, white wine and finished with cream. St. George’s mushrooms are great with eggs – spooned over velvety slow-scrambled eggs on well-buttered sourdough bread is one suggestion.
Other recipe ideas include: Spring mushroom lasagne with wild garlic, Baked polenta with wild mushrooms and Wild mushroom soufflé with Parmesan.
If you’re looking to preserve a large glut, my post on Preserving wild mushrooms might help.
Mushroom identification books
My favourite beginner’s mushroom book is River Cottage Handbook No. 1 by John Wright. Each entry is written with knowledge, warmth and humour. It frequently makes me laugh out loud which is no mean feat for what is, essentially, a reference book. Although it is not a comprehensive identification guide (nor does it pretend to be) it is perfect for the mushroom hunter who wishes to find and confidently identify the top culinary mushrooms (and their decoys). It is always my go-to mushroom book, although I have about fifteen other books on this topic.
If any of you out there are thinking about dabbling in the world of wild mushroom hunting, I cannot recommend the hobby or this book highly enough!