We have been very busy all week. The mornings are cold and a bit misty. We have been having frosts on most mornings. I have to go into town to get some parts for a kiln job, so I take the truck and make the trip pay, by returning with a ute-load of mushroom compost as a bonus. I get stuck into it in the afternoon and unload it into the wheel barrow to spread it around the vegetables. I pull out a lot of spent plants that have been killed off by the frost. Plants like basil are all dried out and dead sticks now. I pull the plants out and weed the patch, then cover it with compost to stop weeds taking advantage of the increased sunlight.
Today has been the first time that I could get out and search for some more mushrooms. Since the tremendous rains of last month, then the few hot and dry days that followed, allowed the fungal spores to force their way up and into the light. This harvest is very late in the season. We usually get mushrooms from late summer/autumn through to early winter. It’s now mid winter and I wouldn’t be expecting too many more mushrooms here now. But here they are. Every year is different. The weather determine everything.
Last weekend the kiln firing crew all decamped en-mass, mid firing, to go and hunt for fungi and came home after 30 mins with half a basket-full of their hard-earned bounty. Three orange fungal heads appeared in our lawn during the week. This led me to think that there may be more around.
I decided to go for a walk this afternoon to try my luck along the fire trail. next to the train line. There are quite a few pines growing along there. We have pines in our garden and that is the source of our mushrooms. So find the pines and then look for mushrooms.
There are loads of mushrooms and toadstools that grow in this area, nearly all of them are not edible. There are two easily recognised species that are edible here. The most common edible wild mushrooms here are the saffron milkcap and the slippery jack. They are symbiotic with pines and seem to prefer it best on the north side of trees where there is open ground with some sunlight penetration and sparse grasses.
The mushies seem to grow under the dense dried grasses that felt the ground at this cool, frosty, end of the year. Mushrooms are some times hard to spot in the undergrowth, but after a while you get good at spotting them, even though they are often a similar colour.
I look hard in the most likely places and suddenly a few things snap into place. I bend down and scrape away the dried grass and there they are.
I manage to completely fill my basket without too much trouble. As I walk down the road, I come across a bloke on a big motorbike sitting by the edge. He is staring out into the distance. He isn’t near anywhere at all, just sitting there. I’m zig-zagging across the street from one side to the other, examining the ground under every pine tree as it comes along. He is aware of me and my erratic movements. I walk towards him and ask if he is OK? Does he need help? To use a phone? No! Apparently he is fine. He has a phone, no problems at all, nothing wrong, just waiting to meet someone!?
Weird! In the middle of nowhere? Still he seems happy enough. He asks me if I’m out collecting mushrooms. “Are you out to collect some mushrooms?” Which is not an entirely unreasonable suggestion, as I’m wearing my Basque beret and carrying a wicker basket full of them. Perhaps he thinks that I’m a french peasant that has got lost and walked all the way from Provence without noticing?
“Yes I am!” I say, as I walk toward him to show him my basket. It’s chockers! He leans forward to see as I lift the basket for him to see in. He has a look and exclaims. “Wow” then he looks closer and focusses in and repeats. “WOW”, then does a double-take at the full to over-flowing basket and reiterates, “WOW!!!” He is visibly shocked. I realise that he wasn’t really expecting to see so many mushrooms.
He asks me if they are all edible. And I tell that they are. He responds, “are you sure?” I tell that I have eaten them many times. I’ve lived in the village for over 40 years and if they are a slow acting poison, then it must be very slow indeed! He responds with another quieter “wow!”. As I walk on he calls out. “Thanks for your concern.” I nod and lift my hand in recognition.
I double back along the other side of the train line and find some more rich pickings. Mostly slippery Jacks on this side. A third of my haul are slippery Jacks, which are sometime called ‘sticky buns’ I guess because of their domed shape and brown sticky/slimey feel, depending on wether they are wet or dry when you find them. The other 2/3 of my basket are the red pine mushrooms that we have learnt to call ‘saffron milk caps’.
I stop looking as I pick up my pace and head for home. I can’t fit anymore mushrooms in the basket. They are starting to be flicked out of the basket by passing branches, sticky shrubs and twigs. I put my beret on top go them to hold them all in. I’m proud of my haul. I feel like a real Post-Modern Peasant.
When I get home, Janine spreads out my bounty on a towel on the kitchen floor to stop them going mouldy. I need to peel and de-stem the slippery Jacks and slice them to aid the drying. The milk-caps will need some careful cleaning to remove all the grass and leaf-matter that is stuck to their tops. Luckily there has been no rain since they have emerged, so there is no splashed up dirt and sand stuck to their underside gills. That is always hard to spot and remove and results in some rather gritty and crunchy meals.
I cook a 3 mushroom risotto for dinner with some of our truffle infused rice.