Mushroom season is one of those wonderful times of year that help make the onslought of winter all that much more bearable. Don’t get me wrong, autumn is a feast for the eyes and the stomach: first fruits, the turning of the leaves, nuts, mushrooms and then, nicely topped of with the shooting season and the HGC larder is graced with pheasant, duck and partridge. I just don’t like winter that much.
At this time of year the countryside is riddled with big smoky fires from all the anal leaf collectors- the smell of autumn fills the air. This is when it gets fun, as the first leaves drift to the ground- often a partially yellow birch leaf, one of the first indicators that summer is on its way out, the mushrooms begin to appear.
Just like wine, mushrooms have their vintage years and should be treated accordingly. Certainly not something to hold onto in quite the same way, you can’t keep a cep for twelve years and less it was dried…but I daresay it would be as good. This year is just one of those vintages: 2010 was a pretty good year, for Ceps, hedgehogs, parasols and trumpet chanterelles- this year is shaping up the same. But is it a good year for mushrooms or just a good year for EDIBLE mushrooms?
As anyone who has ever plucked a choice edible out of the ground will concur, there is something strangely electrifying about reaching that point as a gatherer. A patch of ground ivy or a bed of bittercress can be a pleasant find indeed , but it doesn’t hold the same magic felt when that first positive ID hits home and you look down at the fungus in your hand and think to yourself: ‘yes, I’m going to eat you’. Inevitably followed by “but how…?’
For me, mushrooms sit firmly in that void between plants and animals. A class of their own. Obviously there are fish, crayfish and the entire marine larder, but lets stick to terra firma for this one. Shooting/trapping your first animal for the pot is the hunter’s goal- it builds confidence in oneself, a self-sufficientish kind of emotion that is not to be taken lightly- the other emotion that is often evoked in me is one of thanks- respect for the animal who’s life you have just taken in order to indulge in some of the finest meat you will ever taste. Try to explain this to a nine year-old on a kid’s course is always a challenge, especially when all said child wants to do is crack open a bunnies head to see the brains. Respect son. Learn it.
During my time in the tree house I had a particularly inquisitive cock pheasant that used to hang about under the platform during construction, we became (I like to think) firm friends- a two way street of his company in return for what little food I had on offer that was ‘fowl friendly’ (pheasants don’t like rabbit). As I was deep into a phase of naming things with obscure names, you know- the funny ones- the pheasant was christened Jeff. Jeff was good company and thus avoided my pot on a TBC basis. Sadly, after two months, I found Jeff keeled over on the far side of the wood I was living in. A sad day indeed. Fortunately the spirit of Jeff lives on and can be seen as the feathery Nike tick in our branding… Rest in peace buddy.
Getting off topic here… Mushrooms. So, as I said, for me they hold the middle ground.
This year has been epic for them, and it seems, so has the press. Back in August, I was called up by the Guardian to get my opinion on how the wild fruits were shaping up- after a bit of banter with John Vidal, we got into a bit of a discussion, and I made an off hand comment that it was looking like a good mushroom season might be upon us- then the sustainability issues and the mention of the word ‘gangs’ sweeping vast tracts of land for the restaurant industry slipped out.
Off on holiday I went to France, oysters in Hossegor, a bit of Bordeaux then Ceps & stews in burgundy with lashings of Pommard and Cote du Beaune. On the day I returned the Mail had decided to add me as a quote in their mushroom piece and the Telegraph got in on the action too. Then ITV meridian and BBC south got in touch. Mountain…molehill.
Irresponsible reporting as it was, it does happen, but not to the extent that is assumed and you can bet your ass their not all eastern European (the mail’s favourite scapegoat: ‘just garnish that with a bit of xenophobia…’). Sadly the only evidence you will find other than a large amount of people picking with boxes in the middle of the night, is a huge dump of mushrooms in the undergrowth. Click here to see the ITV report.
Sustainability is a key issue we face as hunter-gatherers (foragers are the vegetarians of the hunter-gatherer world) swiping all the mushrooms in one place IS going to have an impact- you are picking sex organs, and unless they can do what they are supposed to do, gradually there will be less and less reproduction of various species. Just think of it as going around chopping off willies and fannies and expecting the human race to flourish…
Guidelines say that you should never take more than 1.5kg per person. I only ever take a kilo, just to be a good boy. On our Fungal foray & feast courses we have been doing over the last month, there has been 14 of us including instructors. technically we are permitted to take 21kg should we choose. We only pick about 6kg. That’s enough to feed everyone and allow our course attendees to take some home to experiment. That’s plenty
One of my pet hates is seeing forager’s on twitter (I wont mention any names, but you know who you are) with overflowing baskets and boxes of mushrooms they’ve turfed out of the ground and then posted pictures of their haul in a form of fungal gloating. Its quality not quantity.This is stupid for two reasons: A) they’ve blatantly broken the law and are advertising the fact (unless there were 5 other people with them, which they fail to point out) and B) it encourages others to do the same.
Part of the reason we made this short video below is to try to illustrate our beliefs when it comes to mushroom hunting and how to enjoy the hunt just as much as the finds by just being there. Autumn is a beautiful time of year to be out in the woods and looking for fungi is the perfect excuse to be there. Certain scenes reflect an element of sustainability- not picking all the mushrooms you find- leave some in to do there thing. Having permission to actually go to certain places to look for mushrooms is equally important: The HGC network stretches far and wide and we have built up some very good relationships with various landowners and estates in order to do what we do.
Cep season may have been and gone, but this recipe here will still be here next year and it is, in my opinion, the best way to truly enjoy the wonderful nutty flavour and earthy notes of a Cep. This is a bastardised version of one I had in Beaune in Burgundy at a wonderful little Cave/restaurant called Caves Madeleine.
It can be said that at HGC we carpaccio a lot of things, but then why not? The wild larder often tastes better raw and in its natural state with simply a tickle of other ingredients to showcase it’s incredible flavours. Rather that then copping out by simply ‘sticking it in a soup or a stew’ where all is lost. As HGC instructor Dave did on our last mushroom course- substitute the parmesan for crispy bacon- amazing. Clever lad.
Jo-Ceppy. Proper fellow.
- 2 of the freshest, firmest Ceps you can get your hands on.
- Panko breadcrumbs
- A handful of wood sorrel (or lemon zest)
- Freshly grated Parmesan
For the dressing:
- A good glug of Olive
- A good glug of white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
- Salt & pepper
Clean you mushrooms well and chop off any dirty bits, slice the Ceps as finely as you can abouth the width of a one pound coin maximum- top to bottom looks best in terms of presentation. Stack the slices in the centre of a plate.
Put the Panko breadcrumbs in a pan and toast until lightly browned. Make the dressing- place all ingredients in a mug and whisk up with a fork- adjust seasoning last of all.
Drizzle the dressing over your Cep stack, sprinkle breadcrumbs and grate parmesan before garnishing with a bit of punchy wood sorrel.
HGC is off into partial hibernation for a couple of months- the wild larder is doing the same but there are still a few bits and bobs about throughout the winter months. We will still be running Private courses throughout the winter- but mainly game based. So to all you hunter-gatherers out there that fancy a bit of wild butchery- the game larder is stocked up- get in touch!
It might be a bit early to mention Christmas, but our personalised HGC Gift Tokens do make very good Christmas presents and are valid for any of our courses next year, so please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in purchasing one.
Weirdly, someone gave me one once…!