“If you go down in the woods today you better go in disguise, if you go down in the woods today you are sure for a big surprise”… keep your eyes peeled for a porcini or one of those rare but specialist edible mushrooms.
We have been lucky enough to visit a secret wooded destination which always proves to be worth the time and careful hunting. Woodlands in general are great places to look but with a preference for oak, beech, birch and pine trees. Fungi are also found on the perimeter of the woods, on the edge or by paths and in grass where trees are present.
September and October represent the high season. In some years a wet summer brings a bumper September but following a long dry summer it may be well in to October before conditions are good. Early frosts shorten the season but on a mild, damp Autumn half term day we were lucky as conditions were ideal.
Picking your edible fungus you need a knife to cut away at the base, always leaving a small amount in the ground for regeneration. Once you have gathered your mushrooms, time is of the essence in choosing what you are doing with your rare ingredient. Brush your mushrooms to remove any leaves, pine needles or woodland debris. Slice and lay on cooling or oven racks so that the air can circulate and dry your mushrooms for use all through the winter. The dried mushrooms need to be stored in a paper bag and not in any plastic or cling film as this will encourage the mushrooms to sweat and go mouldy. These can then be added to stews, hotpots and risottos. Placing your dried mushrooms in boiling water for 20-30 minutes will reconstitute them ready for use, and remember to use the liquid in your dish. Slice or saute whole for immediate use, and freezing is also an option.
So after careful examination we found a few of the following species: Orange Birch Bolete, Porcini/Cep/Penny Bun and the Hedgehog Fungus. It is most satisfying to sit down and eat the fruits of your forage. We are enjoying a risotto for supper!
In this country we are generally nervous of gathering mushrooms in the wild. It is important to emphasis the dangers of fungi, why you should do some research, or better still go on a foraging course so you know the basic rules. Mycology is the study of fungi and a reminder is the most sensible way to approach eating wild mushrooms is with caution!
My Mum tells me the mysterious stories of getting up very early and going with torchlight into the Italian woods and finding a whole basketful within less than an hour. This was a few years ago in the Italian Tuscan/Umbria region. Getting back to the house, identifying each mushroom carefully and this knowledge is something that has stayed with her ever since. I feel fortunate she knows the best ones and certainly would not be a confident forager without her. “There is the mystery of the secret places where you know they should be a porcini (cep) or a chanterelle – but mushrooms are unpredictable, always surprising or challenging, presenting some unfathomable link with nature in our otherwise routine and sophisticated lives… “Antonio Carluccio, A Passion for Mushrooms.
Mushrooms consist of approximately 90 per cent water and contain various important minerals – potassium salts, phosphates, niacin, plus varying quantities of vitamins B1, B2, C and D. In nutritional terms, the key qualities of a mushroom are the low calorie content (only 35 per 100g) the low fat (1-2 per cent) and the protein content (3-9 per cent). But it is texture and flavour that make mushrooms generally so indispensable in cooking.