There’s not mushroom on the table!
October the 8th 2014 saw the first of one of our even more extraordinary outdoor events: a Mushroom Foray with the inimitable John Wright, mycologist, writer, cabinet maker and TV personality.
The event started at 10am with a superb Foragers’ Breakfast prepared expertly by Heart Kitchen’s own Simon Gale and consisting of spiced, roasted shredded gammon, baked beans (homemade of course), bubble and squeak hash, and freshly baked bread washed down with mugs of tea and beer (I know, BEER! It was a celebratory day of course).
We braved the squally showers and escaped down to Haleacre wood to search for edible fungi as they were to be our first course for supper. Haleacre is mostly beech and hornbeam, with a few birch, pine and hawthorn scattered randomly throughout, and there are many brambles, nettles and foxgloves lining the paths. After a few minutes tramping through the field, we had found a few very common samples; Mycena ‘Pink Bonnet’, and Clitocyte odora which had a greenish cap and smelt slightly of aniseed. John happily regaled us with his foraging tales and the stories behind the naming of certain species; one favourite is a mushroom known as Inocybe eutheles, which is a small conical chap with a raised round button on the top of the dome. No surprise then that eu means good or great in Greek and theles means teat or nipple, so literally translates as ‘Nice Tits!’ (Only a few people looked at Steph at this point….)
After an hour of fruitless searching deep down in the wood, we were getting worried that not only would we not have anything to eat, but Haleacre wood must be the only woodland in Britain totally devoid of all fungal activity. So a huge cheer went up when Donna found a large smattering of Lycoperdon pyriforme – stamp puffball to you and me and John declared them all edible! Suddenly we were in mushroom land; John was running here and there tripping over brambles and piles of flints abandoned by long gone badgers, having to think on his feet and hoping that we had found one of the 700 British mushrooms he knows by both common and Latin name!
A few minutes later and another shout went up – someone had found some tiny purple mushrooms – surely they weren’t edible? Oh yes, and quite delicious lightly sautéed in a little butter John guaranteed. At first it was like finding a needle in a haystack, but once you got your eye in, there were hundreds of these tiny little delicacies! Commonly known as the Amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina), the deception presumably because its colour fades and it can be confused with something more dubious. We also found a brown roll rim (Paxillus involutus) which was the most deadly toadstool find of the day. Apparently it doesn’t kill you first time you eat it, but the deadly toxins build up in your system until eventually you eat what you don’t know is going to be your last meal……………rather sinister, a bit like playing Russian roulette!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Simon, Pam and Kim had been busy chopping, frying and tidying, and tea and cake were laid out – a stunning show stopping hummingbird cake from Lucy; and a lemon drizzle and a welsh tea bread (Bara Brith) for those with a more delicate digestion were on offer……..
Simon then took the group out for an afternoon hunt to look for some more species – John had challenged himself to finding 30 different types, so we needed to collect a few more, while Sue and I had the envious task of peeling a basket of puffball mushrooms, the skin of which was harder to remove than a nun’s habit in a brothel. John sat and arduously labelled every find of the day – over 50 different species. Not a record by any means, but the Curious Foragers were delighted!
Whilst the heavens opened and the rain and wind lashed down on the curious kitchen tent, the day’s participants were set a bake-off pudding challenge – boys versus girls – no competition there then! The boys decided on an apple and blackberry (foraged) crumble – simple and heart-warming we thought, made even more so by the addition of at least 7 different liqueurs off the ‘foragers nip’ tray. The girls pushed the boat out by making a vanilla cream rice pudding with poached pears, plums and thyme, very different.
Supper was then taken in the curious kitchen itself, sitting on hay bales and wrapped in blankets, we tucked into our foragers plate; lightly sautéed amethyst deceivers and puffballs with bitter hairy cress and a lemon and mustard dressing; beautiful beef bourguignonne, steamed carrots and savoy cabbage with billowing clouds of creamy mash; followed by the two puddings.
The judges ruled that although the girls attempt was cleverly crafted and tasty, the boys had been rather innovative with their 7 different types of liquor, and won the acclaimed prize of …..nothing, just kudos and delight in bragging to all and sundry for the rest of their lives…….was it a fair contest? Of course, though none of the judges liked rice pudding; conditioning from years of school gloop with crimson strawberry jelly slopped into the middle, I imagine.
Supper over, it was time to hit the road. Warm, replete, complete, full; – the group left Heart’s Curious Kitchen with new skills; some knowledge of local fauna and mushrooms; and above all that, a new bunch of friends, wonderful memories and some great stories to tell!
John’s new book ‘The Naming of the Shrew’ is out in November.
The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.