Mushroom Foraging and Feasting
Picking mushrooms in a pine forest is the perfect autumn pursuit, and I know we are not the only ones to think so. It is mid morning by the time we reach our destination, and I’m afraid the forest floor might already have been raided by other mushroom enthusiasts. But we are lucky. The forest is quiet and still. Surprisingly so, as we venture out, in search of our treasure. We head off, the four of us, and little Avalon, who is strapped to my back, excited as children at Christmas.
The morning is lovely and cool and the night time rain has washed the mushrooms until they glisten. They are little edible jewels, hiding under the pine needles, just waiting to be found, and find them we do.For us, much of autumn is spent outdoors and this weekend is no exception. We spend our Sunday hunting and gathering and cooking and feasting. We venture into the woods, with a large basket, a sharp knife and hardy wet weather shoes to forage for wild mushrooms. We exhaust a good part of the day walking through old pines forests in search of saffron milk caps, thinking we might only get enough have on a bit of toast. But, our expectations are greatly exceeded, and we ended up walking away with a whole basket of gloriously coloured pine mushrooms, with a few slippery jacks thrown in for good measure; enough to share between the four of us with some left over to cook and freeze for later.
Not only is the hunting good, but so is the company. We go with a good friend of ours, Olivia, and her mum, Maria, who, very happily for us, happens to know a thing or two about mushrooms, and has agreed to be our guide for the day. Maria is Polish, and she has been foraging for mushrooms since she was a girl. She went with her mother, who taught her when and where to go, and most importantly, what to pick. This is a skill she is now passing on to Olivia, who, like us, is wildly enthusiastic about wild mushrooms!
We forage in the shadows of the big old trees and on the open meadows about twenty feet from the base of the pines, where the pine mushrooms, and if you’re lucky, the slippery jacks, like to cluster. As we walk along, the rich damp soil and the dry pine needles perfume our journey. There is not a sound to be heard, save our voices, as we exclaim and talk animatedly amongst ourselves. It is serene and I feel very far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. At first, I am not too sure what I should pick and what I should leave behind, but with Maria’s guidance, I soon gain confidence, and it’s not long before I’m finding them here and there and everywhere. The excitement I feel every time I find one is addictive, and I know this is something that I will do again and again.
As we continue searching, Maria teaches us which mushroom are edible and which will likely send you to the morgue. It is very important you pick the right ones. Autumn brings a bounty of saffron milk caps and slippery jacks, the two main types of mushrooms found in Australia’s pine forests, but slippery jacks can easily be confused with other, deadly varieties. So I stick to picking the saffron milk caps, which are a golden orange, and not easily confused. Maria tells me “when in doubt, leave it out” and that’s exactly what I do. This is the mushroom foragers mantra, and it’s a good one to stick to, as every year people die from eating poisonous mushrooms.As we amble through the forest, eyes glued to the floor, I learn that pine mushrooms spend most of a decade developing underground before emerging as the mushrooms we are picking. This knowledge makes me realise how lucky we are to be able to forage for them, and I take greater care in picking them. From the undergrowth we pluck the pine mushrooms, carefully, making sure we dispose of mushroom trimmings and waste in situ, to encourage new growth.
When our basket starts to fill, I become contemplative. Our pace slows and Maria starts to tell me about foraging for mushrooms with her mum, their winter Christmas’ in Poland and about the delicious food they would make with the mushrooms they collected. There is a longing in her voice that I recognise, and I start to think about my time in Finland, the foraging for wild mushrooms and berries, the green and grey woodlands and the food. Always the food.
As we stroll along in companionable silence, an idea for a dish start to form in my mind, revealing itself like a ships prow emerging through the fog. A dish that is infinitely simple – roughly chopped pine mushrooms, some garlic and plenty of good butter, together with fresh parsley, lashing of cream and a handful of dill. For those who have never used dill to flavour a dish, I highly recommend you try it. Fresh dill leaves have a wonderfully aromatic flavour and adds a delightful freshness and tang to food. It’s used abundantly in Finnish cooking and I know it will add just the right amount of vitality to a rustic ravioli dusted in pepper. A classic Italian dish with a Finnish twist.
Later, we arrive home tired but happy, and the evening is spent in the kitchen rolling out sheets of pasta, cooking mushrooms and reminiscing about the day spent outdoors in search of our supper. There is something very satisfying about eating a meal you have not only made, but sourced. The effort creates lasting memories that makes the eating that much more enjoyable. With every bite, I recall some part of the day. A snippet of conversation, a smile, a water droplet suspended on a blade of grass or the smell of the damp autumn earth. This makes the ravioli more than just food. It is a meal and a memory. It is an experience. One that I am not likely to forget.
Love and light!