July in England is not usually a good time for fungus-hunting, though the season gets under way around now in Poland, with special steam-hauled mushroom-picking trains taking the populace to the woods. What heaven.
After weeks of early summer rain I decided to try my luck in the grounds of a nearby stately home, and was duly rewarded with a sighting of The Prince. Now I don’t know of anybody who actually uses these silly “common names” of fungi, as given in all the books: The Prince (A augustus) can’t ever be a common name because the fungus is hardly ever seen. He is a handsome fellow, distinguished by a cap with concentric orange-brown scales and a distinct smell of bitter almonds. Oddly enough, the smell of cyanide usually marks an edible fungus, as with the fairy-ring mushroom, Marasmius oreades. Princelings appear as fat stubby mushrooms with a surrounding veil and white gills, normally features of the deadly poisonous Amanita spp. But they will usually be accompanied by slightly older Princes with the scaly cap well characterised, pink gills, and the distinctive smell. Really old Princes have dark brown gills. If you are uncertain, you don’t have to eat them, of course. If you do, they go best with a scrap or two of garlic and bacon or pancetta, like most Agaricus species. Fried briskly for a few minutes, they have a more delicate flavour than their close relatives on the supermarket shelves – slightly fennelly, with no remaining hint of cyanide.