My oh my, it’s been a while since I last posted! A series of unfortunate events (including the death of my rather old and beloved computer) and a rather excellent event (falling pregnant with our second child) have prevented me from posting but now I’m back and blogging and hopefully you, my lovely readers, will forgive my absence 🙂
I thought it would be nice to get back on the downshifting wagon by getting back to basics and it doesn’t get more basic than foraging! Foraging is even easier than growing your own fruit or veggies because mother nature has done all the work for you, all you’ve got to do is show up ready to reap the delicious bounty!
When I was a little girl we would visit my Nan and the rest of my Mum’s family each Easter. They live out in central west New South Wales and one of my earliest memories is troops of cousins, Aunts, and Uncles piling into various vehicles, driving out to someone’s property, and collecting the wild field mushrooms that had sprung up after the Easter rains. My sister and I were reminiscing the other day and she recalled being given a cute little basket in which to collect her mushrooms whilst holding Nan’s hand, as she was one of the youngest. I had to do with an old plastic ice-cream container. Go figure.
So back to my more recent mushroom foraging adventure. As I’m located in Sydney wild field mushrooms aren’t that easy to come across and more importantly my Nan is still an eight hours drive away so unable to oversee my mushroom identification. I find it’s always best to learn foraging skills and knowledge from someone standing next to you. The wonders of YouTube and Wikipedia can only take you so far. Luckily for me the rather amusing Diego from Wild Stories runs pine mushroom foraging workshops from Sydney each year. There were multiple benefits to me taking this course:
- pine mushrooms were not something anyone in my family was familiar with as they are not native to Australia so it would increase our collective knowledge rather than duplicate it
- they are very distinctive so I knew I would be confident foraging alone after completing the course
- they are found close enough to home (the State Forest) that I would actually be able to make use of my new skills, and
- pine mushrooms are crazy expensive to buy at farmers’ markets etc so the course would pay for itself after the first or second forage.
The day started bright and early in Enmore as our small group clambered into a minibus and headed down south to the State Forest. At our first stop Diego explained exactly what we were looking for (Lactarius deliciosus or Saffron milk caps and Suillus luteus or slippery jacks), where to find them, and how to collect them. Some interesting points included the use of baskets (for spore distribution rather than aesthetics- though it is rather quaint to stroll around the forest with a basket), and how to cut the mushroom off at the stalk leaving the base to help generate more mushrooms. As mother nature provides the free bounty it’s up to us to collect and share it responsibly. We then collected some of the mushrooms in the area and came together to share what we had found. The vast majority were inedible and it was very valuable to be able to compare those we were aiming to collect (pine mushrooms) to those we were avoiding (everything else, see photos of amazing but unsafe and in some cases hallucinogenic fungi below). Then it was off to another two locations to seek our prey.
It was so peaceful walking through the forest, the grass and air still heavy with moisture from the morning dew. It was almost intrinsic scanning the forest floor and gathering the copper fungus. It felt wholesome. I felt centred.
Soon I would also feel full as Diego lit a fire and demonstrated a hearty mushroom meal cooked on the woodfired BBQ. The pine mushrooms were wiped clean of any debris, sliced, and tossed with a little garlic and fresh rosemary. The BBQ was given a liberal splash of olive oil and those beautiful ochre morsels sizzled away. Served simply on paper plates (later added to the fire to help it along in the drizzly rain) with a slice of fresh bread we were happy with our reward for a morning’s forage.
Soon after we piled back on the bus to Sydney and before I knew it I was back home cleaning and preparing my remaining saffron milk caps. I cleaned with the aid of a cloth and a pastry brush (perfect for flicking out any bits of dirt from the gills), then sliced and cooked in batches in my cast iron skillet. I added olive oil and garlic but not too many herbs as I froze most in small serving sizes for later use in various recipes (apparently the best way to keep them as they don’t store well).
The mushrooms start small and round with the edges curled under then open up as they grow older. You don’t want them once they’re too large as they’re not as flavoursome. You’ll also notice they bruise easily when handled and the bruises are green!
You can see why they’re called saffron milk caps! The colour of their milk or sap is bright orange when freshly cut. It stains your fingers too.
The last big batch served on top of creamy polenta for dinner. So delicious!