Start of the Mushroom Season

Yesterday I went with one of my friends foraging for mushrooms in the local pine forests**. We found our first Saffron Milkcap mushrooms for the year. It looks like their season are just starting so we will go back again soon to see how they are progressing.

Saffron Milkcap mushrooms showing their characteristic orange ‘milk’ where they have been cut on the stems.

Slippery Jack mushrooms were everywhere. While these mushrooms aren’t generally considered to be the greatest fresh eating mushroom around, I find it worthwhile collecting and de-hydrating them to be added to soups and stews through the winter months to round out their flavour.

The super gelatinous top gives Slippery Jacks their name. You can also see the spongy yellow underneath of the cap.

We split our haul so there was only enough Saffron Milkcaps for one meal. I found a good selection of recipes at the website of the Forager Chef, aka Alan Bergo. I decided to go with his Catalan style Saffron Milkcaps with chorizo. It was also good that apart from the chorizo, the other key ingredients tomato, garlic and parsley all came from our garden.

Catalan style Saffron Milkcaps with chorizo, tomato, garlic and parsley.

**Please do not go foraging for mushrooms unless you have had suitable training in identifying edible species. In the recent years several people in Canberra have died due to eating mis-identified mushrooms.

Drying times

I’ve spent the last weekend catching up with jobs I should have done several weeks ago, particularly preparing the persimmons for drying.

Persimmons peeled and strung ready for air drying

This year we got a bag of persimmons when we went to Myrtleford, where the local markets are held every Saturday. I also got a large bag walnuts as I really enjoy buying nuts in season direct from the grower, over those sad specimens, as old as Methuselah and well past their use-by date, which seem to be what many shops offer.

Despite being neglected for several weeks, most of the persimmons were still easy to prepare for air-drying. Unfortunately some had ripened past the point of being useable for drying so I’m about to check out some fruit leather recipes, so we don’t waste any of our fruit.

The persimmons drying in the shelter of our carport exposed to the cold winter winds

Apart from prepping the persimmons, we also had another session of managing our latest batch of foraged mushrooms. After a disappointing start to last weekend’s forage, where we found nothing but dry old Slippery Jacks, we decided to head back to the car. Much to our surprise we found a bountiful supply of Saffron Milkcaps less than 100 metres from where we had parked. Of course they were in the opposite direction to where we first looked!

We’ve taken to cleaning the mushrooms outside so the pine needles and scruffy bits can just be brushed onto the ground. I’ve already stacked the dehydrator with one load of mushrooms, but I expect there will be at least another dehydrator load to go before they are all processed.

Cleaned Saffron Milkcap mushrooms, sliced ready for the dehydrator

We did save some of the best mushrooms for a soup made on chicken stock, with onion and garlic, blended and then topped with sliced Saffron Milkcaps, fried in butter.

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.