It is the end of a second consecutive disappointing autumn for fungi; we are now due a good one next year. But there are still a few wild edibles to be found, including the wild ancestor of the cultivated Japanese “Enokitake”. This the relevant entry from my new book Edible Mushrooms. The picture was taken in January ofthis year, in Old Roar Ghyll.

Velvet Shanks
(Japanese: Enokitake)
Flammulina velutipes
Edible (good). Intermediate/
basic
Description: Cap 1-10cm, initially convex, becoming flatter and sometimes umbonate, orange, sometimes darker towards the centre, slimy when wet, smooth and shiny when dry. Stem 3-10cm, yellowish at the apex, dark brown and velvety below, very tough, often curved and/or flattened. Flesh thin, tough, light brown. Gills white becoming grey-yellow, rather crowded, adnate or emarginate. Spore print white. Smell and taste mild and pleasant. Habitat dead or dying deciduous trees and shrubs. Season late autumn to early spring.
Distribution widespread and common throughout the British Isles, and globally apart from saharan and subsaharan Africa.

Similar species: The difficulty level of this species depends on the time of year. At the beginning of its fruiting season, late in the autumn, there are many other mediumsized, red-brown, wooddecomposing fungi about. These include the deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata), which could conceivably be mistaken for Velvet Shanks by somebody who really isn’t paying attention. Velvet Shanks are much slimier when wet, and with much tougher stems which don’t have rings. As the really cold weather sets in, everything dangerous you might mistake for this species stops fruiting and disappears. Flammulina elastica is very similar, but it is equally edible.

Notes: In any well-stocked Asian supermarket you will find packets of long, thin stuff that looks a bit like spaghetti with bobbles on the end. Take a closer look and you will see that they are actually mushrooms, although completely unlike any other mushroom you’ve ever seen. They certainly bear very little resemblance to wild Velvet Shanks, although they are the same species. Only those wild specimens that have been hidden under the main tufts, or where the space, light and air are restricted, resemble cultivated Enokitake – and even
then the resemblance is slight. Presumably some observant Japanese person noticed the small ones are tastier, because the cultivated version is grown in the dark, in canisters with heightened levels of CO2, ending up pure white, with massively extended stems and tiny caps. The cultivated and wild versions are usually used in similar ways – in soups and stews. Richard Mabey, author of Food for Free suggests adding them to a soup near the end of the cooking process, so they float around on the top like water-lily leaves. Unlike the
cultivated form, the stems of the wild Enokitake aren’t usually eaten.
Slightly poisonous raw.