When the leaves begin to fall from the trees and there is a chill in the morning air it is the time to look for blewits. They are the mushroom of late autumn and early winter and one of the few wild mushrooms to have been regularly gathered and sold in markets in England. Blewits are easily recognised by their purple colour and distinctive sweet perfumed smell. They are the perfect accompaniment for game and rich meats, but equally good cooked on their own with lots of fresh sage and onions. However you choose to have them they must be well cooked as they are mildly toxic raw.
Like some other winter mushrooms, Blewits are able to withstand freezing. If you go collecting Wood Blewits on a frosty morning you will find the caps covered by a thin mushroom shaped sheet of ice and a perfectly fresh mushroom beneath.
There are two commonly found species, the Wood Blewit, Lepista nuda, and the Field Blewit, Lepista sueva.
The Field Blewit appears first and is found growing in large rings in grassland. It is a large mushroom with a smooth light brown or buff cap and a short, stocky violet stem covered in white fibres.
The Wood Blewit is found in woodland, often with oak and holly and later with pine or fir. It grows in rings but this is not always obvious amongst the trees. The Wood Blewit is purple all over but the cap can turn brown where exposed to sunlight. It is generally smaller in stature but the stem is not short and stocky like the Field Blewit.
As well as the Wood and Field Blewits you may come across some closely related species.
Lepista sordida is a slender purple mushroom looking like a small skinny Wood Blewit. It has a weak smell but is otherwise Blewit like. It is often found growing close to Wood Blewits. Although not as strongly flavoured as other Blewits it is still a good edible mushroom.
The Flowery Blewit, Lepista irina, looks like a typical Blewit but lacks any trace of purple colouration. It is creamy white and has a flowery smell reminiscent of irises.
There are some similar looking mushrooms to be aware of.
The Clouded Agaric, Clitocybe nebularis, has a similar look to the Field Blewit but with a more grey colouration. It does not have any purple or violet colours and lacks the distinctive Blewit perfume. When it gets old the cap becomes funnel shaped with a wavy margin. Clouded Agaric is a funnel cap and the gills run a short way down the stem. It is a large mushroom that grows in rings in woodlands and hedgerows in late autumn. Clouded Agaric used to be considered a good edible mushroom and is still eaten in Western France but it is now considered to be toxic causing a reaction in many people.
The other mushrooms to be aware of are the purple Webcaps, Cortinarius spp. These resemble the Wood Blewit. Webcaps have a cortina of fine hairs in stead of a ring and rusty brown spores. The spores can usually be seen collecting on the cortina forming a dark brown ring on the stem just below the cap. Some of the purple Webcaps are toxic.