Fungi Foray

 

Know what these fungi are? No, neither do I. Know whether they’ll send you to another planet or to A & E? Me, neither. With 12,000 British species from Common Grey Disco to Dog Vomit, there ‘s a lot, too much, to learn about wild mushrooms. I freely admit to fear and ignorance when it comes to eating the ones I’ve picked however long I compare them to pictures in a book.

Anyway, saw this lot on a perfect autumn walk through the woods of Skipwith Common and the more we looked the more we saw. We knew it was a serious spot for fungi when we saw a Polish family filling a basket. And we also saw a notice advertising two fungus forays (1pm & 2.30pm) here next Saturday (October 13) led by Michael Sankana, Biodiversity officer at Sheffield City Council with the enticing prospect of a wild mushroom dish cooked up at the end by Kerry Netherway of Natural England. Book your place through Jackie on 01757 703305 or email jackieashc@aol.co.uk

River Cottage Forage

Foraged mushrooms

Sitting in a wind lashed caff on the front in Lyme Regis, watching the sea boiling spectacularly and the half-termers making a fist of it in classic stoic style. A man’s just walked past almost horizontal against the wind, an ice cream gripped in each hand, like a Thelwell cartoon.

A Portland crab sandwich comes in at an ouchy seven quid, and isn’t a patch on the whopper you get for a fiver at the White Hart in Sandsend. Not that I’m driving a wedge in the North South divide.

The Boyfriend is foraging for fungi with that Nice John Wright just down the road at River Cottage. I remain to be convinced that one day’s tuition will result in my cooking (and eating) gathered mushrooms wholeheartedly. Nicholas Evans (author, The Horse Whisperer and seasoned forager) almost died (along with his family) after necking a deadly one that looked like a safe one. They’ve all had liver transplants. Eeek. I can just about see the appeal, but honestly, they’re 80p in Aldi. Mushrooms, not livers.

John Wright

I’m booked in for the ‘show and tell’ and supper back at RC HQ and as I pull up, damp but happy foragers fall out of the wagon with a huge basket of nature’s bounty – some 60 species, amazing. I’m reluctant to admit it, but as John quietly sifts through the haul whilst the cooking demo starts, I’m impressed. Handsome young chef Nick cooks up a storm and is a showman to boot; mushroom stroganoff, pate and a la Greque are soon making their way round the room on bite-sized bruschetta. As a special treat, John’s brought along a truffle as big as a big lump of coal (not found today) which Nick grates into a huge pan of creamy scrambled egg. Delish!

At some point during John’s identification I realise I’m hanging on every word; his knowledge, enthusiasm (and it has to be said, his self-deprecating humour) is thoroughly engaging, and I find my self wondering if those mis-shaped beasts at the bottom of our drive are fit for table.

Supper at River Cottage

As if by magic (this happens a lot at RC; the staff are cheerful, inclusive and laid back to the point of being prone, but there’s a hell of a lot going on in the background) a long table’s been set with wild flowers in jam jars and candles, and around 30 of us sit down to a very good supper; creamy mushrooms on toast (naturally), pork and tomato hotpot with a perfect suet dome and a damn fine Dorset apple cake with a slick of lemon crème fraiche, all washed down with River Cottage Stinger Ale brewed from nettles and boiled organic tights. Joking.

I’m converted. I was blind but now I see. They’ve made a believer out of me. The proselytizing is subtle but effective, like all weird religions. Keep the faith!

Fabulous Funghi

My friends Ann and John are funghi experts and these wonderful hedgehog mushrooms or Pied de Mouton were given to us this week.

In return we gave them the green beans which we have  a glut of – I think we got the better deal!

They were gathered somewhere in Yorkshire (mushroom hunters are notoriously secretive) and made a delicious supper sauteed with butter, parsley and garlic and served on toast.
They’re apparently known as hedgehog fungus because instead of gills, the mushrooms have downward pointing spines, which some say you should scrape off before cooking as they’re slightly bitter, but I didn’t bother.

Really wild mushrooms are a treat, but it can be a dangerous operation if you don’t know what you are doing – we’re lucky in that we can ask A and J if what we find is edible.
But there a lots of organised funghi forays in the coming weeks. Harlow Carr RHS Garden in Harrogate has one on October 23 as part of an Autumn food weekend, Thorp Perrow Arboretum has a number through October and Castle Howard has one in its lovely grounds.

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