More mushrooms!

Not content with our mushroom forage in Myrtleford we wanted to test our prowess out in the pine forests of Canberra.* In spite of the quite dry weather we have already had two successful mushroom hunts.

Our first foray we picked almost only Slippery Jack mushrooms and literally a handful of Saffron Milkcaps. This past week we have found a substantial plot of Saffron Milkcaps and by contrast only a few Slippery Jacks.

Can you see it
Can you see the mushrooms?

Here they are.

We celebrated our haul with our foraging friends by scoffing scads of freshly fried Saffron Milkcaps, sauteed with garlic from friend M’s garden on lovely Mosaics Sourdough bread.

Lunchtime happiness

Once we got home the dehydrator was working overtime drying the Slippery Jacks that we picked. But we have also been trying out some other options.

My partner in crime tried out a recipe for cooking the mushrooms in oil, then adding vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and bottling them.

Preserved mushrooms

Last of all I put aside 600 grams of mushrooms (both types) to make a Wild Mushroom  Cheesy bake from a New York Times recipe my friend sent me. I found the dish very satisfyingly filling. I would definitely add more mushrooms the next time I make this recipe as I thought the cheese to mushroom ratio was too high in favour of the cheese. Don’t despair if you don’t have wild mushrooms, you can also make this recipe using shop bought mushrooms. If you read the comments on the recipe (online at the NY Times) you will see all sorts of other flavour variations that other people have tried.

Mushroom Mac’n’cheese

*Please do not forage for mushrooms if you are not with an experienced forager or have been trained by an experienced forager. Deaths from eating wrongly identified mushrooms have occurred in recent years in the Australian Capital Territory.

Into the piney woods

I  can finally  tick off one of the ‘must do’s’ that has been on my list for years, foraging for mushrooms.  We were in Myrtleford for La Fiera, an annual festival celebrating the Italian migrant heritage of this region. One of the big draws of the weekend was a mushroom forage with local long time foragers Franca, her husband Don, and her parents Maria and Angelo.
Having collected their motley group of mushroom fanciers we headed off in convoy to a nearby pine forest. And then we put on our hard hats and high-vis vests and got to work (yep this is a working forestry plantation we were picking on).

Getting ready to enter the pine forrest

After an introduction about the mushrooms we could expect to find, what to look out for and reminders to check with the leaders before picking anything, we set off. It didn’t take long before we found some mushrooms.

Found ’em!

Our first finds were Slippery Jack mushrooms, so-called because of their slimy caps. Franca told us to peel the slimy top off before cooking them. The slimy bit can apparently cause some gastric upset.

Slippery Jack mushrooms hiding in the pine needles

What were all really keen to find were the Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms, which have a firmer texture. It was even more difficult to spot their orange mottled surface on the forest floor, particularly as they were often completely covered by pine needles. I was helped in finding them when I spotted a group of Saffron Milk Caps that had been dug around by animals, who clearly were interested in seeing what was there, but didn’t eat them. Once I found some I checked more closely in the surrounding area and found more still under the pine needles.

A Saffron Milk Cap mushroom

About this time I got a serious case of tool envy. Franca showed us her beautiful Orpinel mushroom knife,  with it’s curved blade that folds into the wooden handle and a built in brush on one end of the handle. The rest of us had kitchen knives and an old toothbrush to clean the bits of dirt from the mushrooms.

Our collection, the mushrooms with yellow undersides are the Slippery Jacks and those with orange undersides are Saffron milk Caps

Between our friends and ourselves we had quite a haul! At the end of the hunt we were treated to a lovely brunch of fried mushrooms on sourdough bread (cooked in Franca’s wood-fired oven), double yum.

Maria cooks up a forest feast

In the end we had plenty of mushrooms for dinner that night and beyond. But that’s for the next post.

Apple picking time

At last we’ve made it out to our favourite foraging spot to pick this year’s feral apples. It’s a good year with the trees slumping over with the large number of apples on them.

One of the trees we picked from
One of the trees we picked from

Its clear that others have also been picking, but there is so much fruit at present that even after we’ve had a go there’s still plenty left. Three of us managed to pick about 100 kilograms of fruit in under two hours. We picked from some 10 different trees and there were easily twice as many we could have choosen from. From here we will move to pulp the bulk of the fruit to make apple juice and apple cider.

Literally bags of apples from our foraging foray
Literally bags of apples from our foraging foray

There are also a small number of quince trees that sit alongside our favourite apples trees. For once, the person who normally picks them out before I get there, left quite a few quinces behind. I plan to make some quince and vanilla jelly, I may even try a quince vanilla and rose geranium variation. I need to get onto this quickly as I just finished eating my last batch of the same.

A bag of lovely quinces
A bag of lovely quinces


First blackberries of the year

Blackberries would have to be the most readily foraged plant in Canberra. They grow throughout the territory along roadsides and in an amazing number of scrubby areas tucked into the city’s suburbs. Yet given the cost of blackberries at the markets or shops, (or worse still potential infection from poorly handled frozen berries) very few people are actually out there picking.

Ripe and ready to pick
Ripe and ready to pick

One of our fellow foragers commented that as a child in country Victoria, any spot like the one where we were picking would attract quite a number of cars. Yet here we were with only the company of passing cyclists and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos calling in the nearby forest.

Passing traffic on a Sunday morning
Passing traffic on a Sunday morning and yes those are black berry bushes on both sides of the road!

People tell me that they are put off by the thought of snakes – I’ve never seen any while picking yet – and the potential for eating berries that have been sprayed by poison. On the latter point the ACT government is so civilised that it gives fair warning of spraying with signs and by using brightly coloured dye when they do spray. The biggest danger I have experienced is getting thorns stuck in my fingers, as I don’t use a glove on my picking hand. I even got a top tip recently for fixing that problem – just put some PVA glue on the spiked finger and after the glue has set, peel it off and the thorns will come out with it.

To say there is a large quantity of fruit to pick is an understatement. In about an hour and a half of easy picking we managed to collect a good 6 litres of fruit between four of us. Even better once we got back to our friend’s place we ate some of what’s left of last year’s harvest served up in this cake dolloped with yoghurt mixed with maple syrup.

Blackberry cake served with maple syrup flavoured yoghurt
Blackberry cake served with maple syrup flavoured yoghurt

What’s not to like about that. See you on the roadsides!

First forage for the year

Last week we went for a drive by our favourite fruit foraging spot, just to see how this year’s crop of apples are shaping up. They are shaping up really well, but it will be at least another month before we can start picking.

However, there was something to pick. Tiny plums, the size and colour of cherries. There were just enough plums to make some jam.

A bowl of foraged plums
A bowl of foraged plums

To give the flavour a bit of a boost I added vanilla pods to the pot. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that the pods hadn’t had the seeds scraped out so when I discarded them at the end of the cooking there was quite some consternation in the kitchen. Given the size of the plums I decided to cook them without taking the stones out – too much like hard work. I was pleased that it took very little work to push the pulp through a sieve and remove the stones that way.

I think I have to call the result a ’boutique’ offering, as there was only sufficient jam to fill two small pots.

Feral Plum and Vanilla Jam
Feral Plum and Vanilla Jam


An Apple a Day

We tried to make cider last year with limited success, I think the term ‘small scale production’ took on a new meaning with our 1.5 litres of finished product! However this year we are determined to do a bit better.

Following our visit to Reidsdale Old Cheese Factory to wassail the apple trees in September last year we knew exactly where to find professional help. Sully’s Cider House offer an apple pressing service to members of the public. They will also take your juice through the full pasteurisation or cidering process if you choose not to do this yourself. Their press requires some 200kgs of fruit to operate so you do have to have either several large trees of your own or access to trees to get a pressing done.

First we needed to get some apples so we hit the roads around the ACT to find feral fruit trees, of which there are many, growing on the roadsides. Feral fruit always makes me think of fairly ratty, spotty, insect infected fruit. Surprisingly that’s not what we found. Here are some pictures of two of the apple trees and a pear tree that we collected fruit from. Picture perfect as you can see (well OK the pear had a few ratty leaves). You can quite readily mix apples and pears in the same cider batch.


Having lived in a kitchen full of fruit and plenty of small spiders for several days we were quite pleased when the day came to get the fruit processed. We got underway with our trailer load of fruit (not to mention some more bags in the boot) and headed out to Braidwood.


On arrival we got there we got stuck straight into the pressing. First washing the fruit, to get rid of the dirt and bugs,


then putting the fruit through the chopper (most home cider makers use a garden chipper),


and finally carefully building up the layers of the cidery ‘wedding cake’.


Building up layers with some nylon curtain netting in between is critical to ensure that the juice can flow out between the layers and avoid the massive build up of pressure that could result in the fruit exploding out of the press. (Aparently very ugly, not to mention sticky, when it happens).

Even before the fruit is pressed the weight of the layers is enough to start the juice flowing. In this barrel is over 20 litres of juice that was collected before any pressure was placed on the fruit.


Then on go the sides of the press and the main action begins.


From our near to 250 kgs of fruit we got 115 litres of apple juice. We didn’t bring all of it home – Sully’s will buy back from you any suitable juice that is excess to your requirements.


No rest for the wicked as we had to get stuck into bottling and preparing the fruit juice for fermentation as quickly as possible. We have a number of uses for the juice. Roughly half is being made into cider, TB is seen here adding champagne yeast to the juice. We decided not to go down the ‘wild’ yeast path for our first large batches as the process can be difficult to control and may well deliver a product with some very unpleasant flavours.


Of the rest we have fresh juice to drink this week. We have also saved most of the remaining juice in sterilised bottles, which are then pasteurised in the same way as you bottle fruit, ie heated in a water bath for 30 minutes. These we will be able to keep for later use.


The last remaining 10 litres is being devoted to two small projects. Firstly I’m making a demijohn of cider which has had leatherwood honey added to it. The higher sugar levels will raise the alcohol content of the cider. However, we will have to wait and see whether we get any trace of the leatherwood flavour in the final product. TB is turning the rest of the juice into apple version of vino cotto (or what ever you would call it) by very slowly heating the juice at low temperature, over several days, to reduce the juice to a viscous lushness.

If nothing else we have a delightful apple scent throughout the house accompanying the slow bloop, bloop of the fermenting cider in the kitchen.

If you are interested in making your own cider you might find the pages of the Whittenham Hill Cider Pages useful.

Foraging for the garden

Foraging is a popular activity with us and our friends. We’ve already scored well this year with peaches, have been out blackberrying several times and will be out looking for apples very soon. But it struck me that its not just food for ourselves that we are looking for. Our garden is also a very ‘hungry’ entity.

We work our garden hard and we really need to keep a good supply of composts and manures fedding into it to keep the garden productive. In the past I’ve collected seriously large amounts of kitchen scraps from my office (500kgs over two years), to feed our compost bins, but as  that source is no longer available we’ve started to look closer to home.

Thankfully there are ovals nearby and when the people doing the mowing get lazy they will leave large mounds of grass cuttings just there for the taking.


and so we do. The last time this happened we also met a few other fellow local garden gatherers.


From these clippings TB built a compost heap, along with some added straw, that bears a strangely disturbing resemblance to the mountain in the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ – I’m just hoping that it won’t be attracting any aliens soon, although it’s already attracting hoards of small flies! (no that’s not ectoplasm, just some water to help speed the decomposition process).


Our other main source of compostables comes from our local cafe. Rather then being surprised when I asked if I could collect their coffee grounds I was told that they had a number of people doing so at their previous location. So now we have a regular coffee and compost collection date.

Just peachy!

Driving through the country these days for us is as much about keeping an eye out for edibles as it is enjoying the scenery. Returning from a family wedding in Orange a few weeks back we struck foraging gold, several peach trees growing in the drainage ditch next to the road, absolutely loaded with ripe fruit!


It was just a matter of pulling safely off the side of the road and grabbing our shopping bags from the boot and before you knew it we had 13kgs of white freestone peaches (so thanks to whoever threw that seed out of the car window!). Call us greedy but we had spotted those peaches three days before on the drive up to Orange and clearly no one had taken any in the interim.


Despite our best efforts to protect the fruit, which was fully ripe, it did suffer from some bruising on the drive home. As you can see from the picture there was an awful lot of processing ahead of us.

The most bruised fruit was destined to become peach leather. I de-skinned the peaches by dropping them into boiling water and leaving them for a minute or so (just like you would a tomato), taking them out using a slotted spoon and slipping the skins off as soon as I could handle them. After that they just needed to be blended up in the food processor with some spices and in this case a bit of grated apple. There is no need to cook the fruit. Because the peaches were so ripe I decided to let the pulp drip out a fair amount of moisture before spreading the pulp onto baking paper to dry.


To be honest the raw pulp did look like something the cat had thrown-up and I’m not sure that the finished product looks a lot better, just drier.


Given that the weather was wet and humid, rather than hot and dry as you might reasonably expect at this time of year, I ended up doing the bulk of my drying in the oven. The trick is to barely heat your oven so the fruit doesn’t cook. Our oven was set to 50ºC and then turned off and left with the fan running. It was all quite tedious so when the sun came out after two days of oven drying everything went outside.

Similarly the bulk of the good fruit was cut into quarters and dried on racks – these also had to spend several days inside with a fan turned on them. The critical thing is to have air moving over the fruit to dessicate it. Heating will only help develop moulds and fungus. Because we don’t use sulphur to suppress mould growing on the fruit we did lose some of the half-dried peaches. Every day it was necessary to scan the racks for any dodgy fruit so it could be removed before it spread the fungus to other pieces. I wasn’t at all happy about the amount of energy that was expended on drying the fruit, but by the same token I wasn’t just going to let it all rot either.


The remaining fruit was converted into peach jam, which I flavoured with some lemongrass I found skulking in the bottom of the fridge. I can’t say that the lemongrass is very obvious in the jam, but then again it wasn’t very fresh. Not to worry I’ve ended up with some tasty products to eat over the coming months.