You can barely walk the forests and farmland of the Eurobodalla this week without stepping on mushrooms of one sort or another. Good autumn rains and mild temperatures have seen another bumper year of fungi fecundity.
It’s true I am a fan of mushrooms: my world-famous stew has been praised by diners on three continents as they slurped up that shroomy goodness.
When the field-mushrooms burst out across the paddocks last week – seemingly overnight, as if by magic – my greed grew likewise, my thoughts turned to gathering.
I have collected field-mushrooms for many years, but not since moving to the Eurobodalla. So when I went to fill my basket last weekend, I drew pause: these did look kind of like the field mushrooms I was familiar with. Kind of.
The old saying goes: there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.
So I contacted Milkwood Permaculture director, Nick Ritar for advice.
“I do forage for field mushrooms, but they are not a great mushroom for inexperienced foragers,” Nick said.
“There are a few different edible-field-mushroom species, and there are quite a few look-alikes that will give you an upset tummy. It can be hard to tell them apart.”
This is not surprising. Scientists estimate there may be five million species of fungi. The have named and described just 2 per cent of those. Which leaves a bunch we know little or nothing about.
Nick said the trick was to go out with an experienced mushroom hunter and to do your homework beforehand.
“You need to positively identify a species and go after just that one. Get a good idea of what it looks like, learn where it grows, and know what the look-alike species are – how to tell the good from the bad,” he said.
“There are no general rules: the idea that if the gills are brown it is safe to eat, that’s rubbish,” Nick said.
He advised a good mushroom for beginning hunters was the safron milk cap.
“It has a distinct look, just google to see heaps of photos; it will only grow under pine trees; and it has very few look-alike species,” Nick said.
“Safrons milk caps will stay around until June or July. The do require a decent dump of rain to come up, but if conditions are good you can get five to ten kilograms.
“If we get good rain I will be starting to go out in the next few days.” Nick said.
With that advice, I chose the old, rather than bold, approach and left the field-mushrooms to mould away. Instead I called up the jack russell and pocketed the phone for a photographic foray of the local fungi.
Fungimap is a great starting place for getting your Australian mushrooms identified.
You will need:
Pour yourself a generous glass of good red – you only live once.
In a deep pan, cook the chopped veg with the rosemary, salt and pepper, in a splash of olive oil, over medium heat ‘til soft; about five minutes.
Add the fresh and re-hydrated mushrooms to the pan for another five minutes.
Add the vegetable stock, sherry, beans and liquid from the re-hydrated mushrooms. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Test regularly and add water to dilute if necessary.
Voila! World-beating mushroom stew with a magic all of it’s own.
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