The first mushroom I ever ate that didn't come from a supermarket shelf was this one:
This mushroom was truly the size of a dinner plate, and it was quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
The year was 1998, the finder was Colin (pictured), and the place was central Wales. I was in Wales visiting a pen friend - Tim - whom I'd been corresponding with since we were both 13 years old (remember snail mail??)
Anyway ... Tim had friends who lived in a country house that made me feel like I'd fallen into a fairy tale. It was quaint and beautiful, and the surrounding landscape was preposterously green and lush compared with my own brown and sunburnt country. This is where the giant mushroom came from:
Back then, I simply couldn't imagine being able to step outside to pick some field mushrooms from my own garden. But a few days ago, I experienced that very pleasure - right here in Dorothea Mackellar's land of droughts and flooding rains.
Prior to this little crop of dark-gilled beauties, the only mushrooms (or toadstools) we've seen around here have either had white gills (and therefore shouldn't be eaten), or else have been so bizarre-looking that you wouldn't dream of putting one in your mouth. For example, I named this magnificent toadstool "poo on sticks" (because, as I've mentioned before, I'm not very creative when it comes to naming things):
Finally, before anyone goes out picking and eating wild mushrooms for the first time, it's customary to have the bejeezus scared out of you by horror stories about mushroom-picking jaunts gone horribly, horribly wrong. These misadventures often result in entire families needing emergency liver transplants a week or so after eating the wrong type of mushroom.
For example, here is a suitably scary story about how the deathcap mushroom is "on the move", poisoning unsuspecting mushroomers in Australia.
The general advice is: be absolutely certain about what you're eating, and never accept mushrooms from a stranger!