Category Archives: Cookery

October/November 2020 garden diary

Deadly danger in the garden! I watched as an amazing crop of mushrooms and toadstools sprang up over the past couple of months. But I was shocked when I identified this specimen …

Although I’m a complete novice in the field of fungi, I remembered seeing this one illustrated as being deadly. And I believe this video on the website (a really fascinating, well-produced site, by the way) confirms my suspicion.

October can be a strange month in the garden. Some plants continue to grow full pelt and produce fruit or flowers; others quickly lose their leaves, wither and die, succumbing to the first frost; and then there are the fungi …

Fungi seem to have appeared every year, in all our previous gardens too, often arranged in a whole or part circle: both annual and annular, as it were. But this year has been different: the more I looked, the more I discovered so many individual plants, groups, pairs, rings – and so many different types.

Well okay, they’re not plants. In fact, they’re neither vegetable nor animal, the experts tell us. They form a completely different Kingdom. So what should we say they are? Planimals? Vegetals? Coincidentally, scrolling through our TV’s programme guide, I just happened to come across a discussion show on Al Jazeira, which featured a revealing interview with mycologist Paul Stamets. He confirmed that many fungi do indeed appear suddenly, in “cellular explosions”. Incidentally, Stamets is a cast member in a 2019 movie called Fantastic Fungi.

He believes that fungi are extremely under-exploited. With their largely-untapped uses in the fields of pharmacology, agriculture and environmental improvement, research into fungi should be funded as much as the computer industry, he suggests. Fungi produce water, hydrating the environment and sweating out enzymes, he says, and spores of mushrooms often become nuclei for raindrops, potentially a game-changing benefit in arid areas of the planet.

I think the unseasonably warm and moist atmosphere during this period must have been an important factor in prompting the appearance of so many. In fact, I didn’t realise quite how many were on display until I did a kind of “audit”. Searching in the grass, under trees, along the sides of concrete paths, in undergrowth, on wood piles and hidden away in crowded borders, I discovered some specimens I’d never have known were there. It all started with this lot …

I can’t say with any certainty what type of mushroom (toadstool?) these are.

Looking at my copy of The Observer’s Book of Mushrooms and Toadstools, I’m in awe of experts on fungi – mycologists – who can distinguish between the vast array of individual fungi types. It turns out that there are four main divisions in the world of fungi: Chytridiomycota (chytrids), Zygomycota (bread molds), Ascomycota (yeasts and sac fungi) and Basidiomycota (club fungi). The divisions are based on the way in which different fungi reproduce sexually.

But of course in the large majority of cases I haven’t a clue as to the names of the individual types that I came across. Having said that, realising that there are so many examples in and on our modest garden does make me want to find out more.

Ah yes, the gills. Also known as lamella, apparently, and the place where spores are formed and ejected. I wondered whether mushrooms and toadstools all had gills. Well, just hold on. I’ve searched in vain for information on the distinction between mushrooms and toadstools and it turns out there isn’t one. The Observer’s Book says: “The name commonly used for the cap fungi, other than mushrooms, is toadstools”. Elsewhere I read that they’re non-scientific terms, most often used to distinguish edible from non-edible fungi, and shorthand names for differentiating a fungus with a more ‘conventional’ shape (stalk and cap) – mushroom – from one with some other shape (toadstool). Though not always. Okay?

Anyway, back to the audit. Here are some more pics of the fungi I found.

Did you know, by the way, that for sheer size the largest living land organism is a honey fungus that makes a blue whale look like a mouse in comparison. Back to the audit …

Fungal spores are so light they are easily blown around by even the lightest of winds. The thought occurred to me that they might well fly so high that they could reach the exosphere and be conveyed to other planets – or even to other solar systems – by the effects of gravity and solar winds. Well, from what I’ve read of the weighty debate about this topic, it does seem unlikely. But the argument in favour of panspermia, in opposition to abiogenesis, is one that seems likely to run for many years to come.

After a few weeks, most were gone, cringing and shrinking into the cold of the night air. By the time of the first November frost, they’d vanished.

Vanished but not died: what I’d seen was each fungus’s “fruiting body”. Below the surface, the mycelium lives on, often lending assistance to other plants, as I mentioned in my blog about planting bare root roses. Fungi act as an internet of the soil, allowing plants to communicate with each other. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to join in their conversations? It seems that mushrooms have a great deal to offer us.

And, of course, they do provide a key ingredient in a mushroom omelette; though make sure you choose the right variety …



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Critical Path Analysis – and all the trimmings

I don’t suppose John Lennon had Christmas dinner in mind when he wrote Come Together, the opening track of the Abbey Road album. But it’s the song that I found myself singing all the way through the process of cooking our festive feast (my turn …) this year.

p1020889The challenge is to get all the food, piping hot, onto all the plates at exactly the same time – an unreachable goal, of course, but an ideal that we strive to attain in the true tradition of Man’s enquenchable desire to control the natural world.

I tend to think of cooking Christmas dinner as a problem of project management. It’s all about planning, using estimates, making assumptions and peeling sprouts. It’s a situation in which I try to apply a touch of the old Critical Path Analysis, mostly unconsciously, but always with it in the back of my mind.

I remember first finding out about CPA (as we exponents routinely refer to it) in an edition of Reader’s Digest (still, by the way, the largest circulating magazine in the world), when I was a boy. In some respects, Reader’s Digest was our equivalent of the smartphone, as many people would be seen with their heads bowed, swiping through its A5 pages, oblivious to the world around them.

It featured all sorts of interesting stuff like updates on space technology (asking questions such as “Will Man ever walk on the Moon?“), “The Challenge of the Desert” and (a regular favourite) “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power“. One of the most popular strands was an analysis of what happens in a car accident. In the cover below, you’ll see the 1957 story headline “Slow Motion Picture of Death on the Road“.


Articles on this specific theme were included very often, providing readers with a gory, millisecond-by-millisecond analysis of what happens to “Gerald” (say) as his cracking forehead begins to pass through the ever-so-slowly shattering windscreen. There’s an example of this kind of thing in this classic reprint, the original published even before my time.

But I digress.

One such fascinating piece was about Critical Path Analysis, and it included all kinds of thought-provoking advice on how to plan the timings of a project so that everything “comes together” on time. And now, of course, it comes in so useful in situations such as cooking Christmas dinner.

cpa280I got up especially early on the day, and began planning my approach. Clearly getting the turkey underway early enough was of “critical” importance. So I immediately built that event into my CPA plan. Next I analysed the time differentials involved in peeling the potatoes, parsnips and swede, allowing a suitable period for key elements such as the relative time:space in the oven:temperature variation quotient.


In a matter of a few hours I was able to see that the project was coming together really well. I allotted some fast tracking variables to creating the gravy pathway, prior to building in an Activity-on-node diagram, showing my revised critical path schedule, along with total float and critical path drag computations. With the project planning nearly complete, I prepared a PERT chart insert to ensure that the pudding arrived at exactly the right time.

With all planning documentation, drag factor diagrams and PERT scheduling completed successfully by 1.00pm, I began unwrapping the turkey.



Image credit: on-node analysis – By NuggetkiwiOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


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