Moving with the times, the cool kids call them ‘Shrooms’, why not? An abbreviation? What’s cooler than that! So rather than being spaced out on a sofa, unable to comprehend what you’re hands are doing (or shivering in a corner hoping it will just ‘go away’), it is time to move on and look for more acceptable members of the fungi family, dude. So, last weekend my brother and I went to pay a visit to my mother in Sussex.
My brother has been in the city for too long, first London then New York. It was clear from his enthusiasm, just how much he had missed charging round the woods in search of random stuff. We had only been in my mother’s garden a matter of hours before he muttered: “Where’s the air pistol?” and preceded to nail a member of the local collared dove population. Ok, not your typical fair game, I had not eaten it before, similar to pigeon…I’ll try it (to satisfy his guilt or my curiosity, I will never know).
After a superb lunch we went out for a walk in the local woods, armed with a couple of mushroom guides and a great deal of enthusiasm. I have come to realize that searching for fungi takes me straight back to Easter egg hunts when I was a child. That same feeling of spotting something suspect and rushing over to explore more closely, a childish lust for sugar and the prospect of satisfying that sweet tooth, I have found I get that same buzz, yet it is somewhat more refined these days.
I have always enjoyed hunting for treasure; that was probably why I chose to study Archaeology at university. I suppose fungi take on the role of treasure in this case as all wild food tends to. Searching for mushrooms is such an addictive activity, every time you come across one it could be a new species to learn about, new fungi to eat or new fungi to avoid. It is also a timeless sport that can be done virtually anywhere, it’s a very good excuse to go for a nice long stroll and enjoy observing Autumn steadily creep up on the countryside; the brighter than normal sunshine, the leaves turning golden and drifting down from the trees.
It was a walk very much like this that we came across a few different species, Yellow Brittle gill, Common Puffballs, Hedgehog Fungus and poisonous bands of Sulphur Tufts. Some of them were taken home for tea and some for identification, which I still can’t find in any of my books…weird.
With most wild mushrooms, I like to eat them simply as they are, fried in a little butter with a squeeze of lemon and served on toast. Wild fungi can all have varying degrees of texture from soft to meaty and different notes some nutty, some super mushroomy. To try them with most minimal of flavouring is to better understand what they can be used with in the kitchen and by cooking in such a simple fashion; what kind of cooking they might be able to stand up to.
Along the way we gathered Blackberries, Rosehips, Hawthorn berries and some Apple mint. We came home with a decent haul of everything, for the next week I will be busy doing bits and pieces of autumnal cookery, laying down some good Rosehip syrup and making some Blackberry sorbet. The only thing I forgot was crab apples, crab apple jelly is one of my favourite preserves, there is always next weekend I suppose.
It has become clear, changing seasons represent the best of what the wild larder has to offer. Autumn forays are often the most productive, with a few days work in the kitchen, this gathered food can be transformed into delicious morsels you can squirrel away for the long cold winter ahead. I used to dislike autumn; to me it signified the end of summer, no more BBQ’s, picnics or fishing in shorts and a t-shirt. As the credit crunch becomes ever more convincing…surely the wild larder can provide a little relief? At this time of year there is plenty on offer to fill up the shelves at home. I have decided I like September and October, I look forward to wrapping up warm and taking a short stroll to a nice cosy country pub, getting a pint of my favourite brew and settling down in an armchair in front of a roaring fire…I think Autumn is just perfect.