B is for Boletus Edulis & Badius

Cep or penny bun - worth the searching
What is it? Boletus Edulis, cep, penny bun or porcini.

Culinary Aspects? Other than truffles and possibly morels, probably the most sort after and edible wild mushroom going. It dries extremely well, tastes superb and is excellent in just about any mushroom dish, but is probably best not wasted, fresh, on things like stews or fricassees.  If you find some, dry them - it's worth it. I would strongly recommend buying dried ones, despite the extremely prohibitive cost, because they add a fantastic taste (when reconstituted and liquor retained) to a lot of dishes, especially something like wild mushrooms with white wine and mascarpone.

Where have I found it?  Now, that would be telling, wouldn't it. I mean, why on Earth would I want people to know where I've found these when they are so uncommon? Well, as far south as the New Forest and as far north as Strontian in the West Highlands of Scotland. I have found it closer to home, but that's where my loose tongue gets tied. You will normally find them in clearings in deciduous woods, but you can also find them around pine forests. They like sandy soil, but also loamy soil. I've found them under oak and also under sweet chestnut, growing near tree stumps and usually in clearings and even on golf tees.

Interesting 'facts'? Well, while I was in Poland in 2003, the most expensive thing on a restaurant menu in one of the finest eateries in Warsaw was a Porcini stew which was quite pleasant, but isn't something you'd want too much of. In the Alps, during the season, they can exchange hands for tens of Euros per kilo, but unlike the next in our A to Z, these wonderful mushrooms are also prone to attracting maggots and insects. Don't be put off if any dried ones you buy have that ... eaten look in the stalks, the insects are long gone.

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bay boletus tends to have a yellowish underside 
What is it? Boletus Badius or Bay Boletus.

Culinary Aspects? Possibly my favourite boletus because of its versatility and the fact that unlike the mighty cep, bay boletes tend not to attract insects and maggots. I believe they cook better than ceps when fresh as they have a slightly firmer flesh and work very well with cream and/or white wine. Also very good for drying.

Where have I found it?  Over the years I have found that this is actually probably rarer/less common than ceps. I have found these in the good ol' New Forest, where you can just about find anything and very few other places, although I have been lucky and know of a place that is within 3 miles of where I live where they have grown, unusually, every other year from the end of August to the end of September.

Interesting 'facts'? I believe, though there's nothing scientific gone into this, that the reason the bay boletus suffers from less of a maggot infestation is because of the tougher more fibrous stalk it possesses. It does seem more compact and dense than other boletus and like some of the lepiotas we'll come across at the letter P, even hungry maggots can't eat their way through something that doesn't want to give. 
Again, not a fact, but renowned mushroom connoisseur Antonio Carluccio prefers this and has championed this mushroom many times before.
The yellow underside stains blue when bruised, this is often a warning sign with some mushrooms, but not this one.

There are many edible boletes and very few poisonous or inedible ones. We'll touch on them as we go along.

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A is for Amanita Muscaria

The white spots can wash off in a heavy rain storm
What is it? Amanita Muscaria or Fly Agaric

Culinary Aspects? Contains muscarine*, or more specifically muscimol, a powerful hallucinogenic. However, this is a very odd mushroom; in itself it isn't necessarily poisonous, but it can be and therein lies the entire 'problem' with mushrooms in general. The most recognisable of all mushrooms is also probably the most misunderstood and the weirdest in terms of how it kind of defies a lot of mushroom logic. The short answer to the question, however, is no (sort of...).

Where have I found it?  Pretty much as common as muck, which probably explains their familiarity to people. The bright red with white blobs is pretty easily recognised. Red = danger and the white flecks don't exactly make it look appealing. I have found this in woods just south of Mallaig, in the West Highlands of Scotland; in the New Forest (more predominantly on the western side) and in several places in Northampton: Harleston Firs; Bradlaugh Fields; Lings Woods; Hardingstone.

Interesting 'facts'? When I said fly agaric isn't edible, I wasn't being strictly truthful. fly agaric is poisonous, but like some other mushrooms we'll come to over the coming months, how to determine whether they are unsafe to eat or not is a complete unknown. As well as containing muscarine, they also contain muscimol, but you could have the biggest mushroom in the world and there might barely be a trace of it, or you could have the smallest fly agaric ever that is absolutely soaked in the stuff. Equally, the big one might have loads, the small one none and in between sizes could vary as widely as the colours of a rainbow. Fly agaric is the real reason why mushrooms are probably mistrusted; why Lewis Carroll had them depicted in Alice in Wonderland and why when we think of magic mushrooms we think of fly agaric.
You could eat one a day for a year and never so much as get a buzz from one, that is how unpredictable these mushrooms are; but, just to throw another spanner in the works, they do contain trace elements of muscarine which is a potentially deadly poison and is present in most of the 'deadly' poisonous mushrooms. The thing that makes fly agaric so unique is that, and this is anecdotal rather than fact based, rarely anyone dies from eating them, but, there is always a risk - especially as the levels of muscarine can be as unpredictable as the levels of muscimol. The muscimol is highly desired, but the muscarine makes it a gamble not worth taking, especially as muscarine can build up in your system and kill you slowly over a period of time (like the Brown Roll Rim can, which we'll get to on B).
Fly agaric have migrated south, but they have always been a mushroom that likes the cold and damp and are most prolific in Lapland. The reindeer herders discovered that their deer ate the mushrooms but were not affected by the poisons (or the drugs); so they could 'process' the fly agaric and they did this by feeding the reindeer the mushrooms and then collecting their urine to drink. They got all the hallucinogenic properties without the poisonous side affects. However, they had to drink reindeer piss to achieve this.

They tend to grow in coniferous forests, under beech trees
and in the vicinity of ferns.
The genus 'amanita' has a number of deadly poisonous mushrooms in its lists, these include Destroying Angel, Panther Cap and Death Cap, but also have the highly prized Caesar's Mushroom, which doesn't grow over here but is much-loved in Italy. In the UK we have the Blusher - a pinkish coloured relation to the Caesar's - and the Tawny Grisset, which are both amanitas and edible, but, you know, even if I was 100% sure, I'm still not convinced I'd want to eat them.

* (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscarine)
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