MuswellHillbilly


Marvellous Mushrooms
January 13, 2015, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Edible Gardening | Tags: , , ,

If, like me, you get a bit twitchy in winter without lots of lovely veg to grow, why not try an indoor mushroom kit?

Mellors and I bought a range of kits from Espresso Mushroom Company, which are cardboard boxes containing mushroom spores in a compost of coffee grounds. You just wet the contents and watch the mushrooms grow almost overnight.

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mushroom kit

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They grow so quickly (with almost creepy haste, like tasty, colourful Triffids)  – the kids love seeing how much bigger they are every day.  Give it a go. Mushroom risotto for the Hillbillys tonight!



Foraging for free food
November 5, 2009, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Foraging | Tags: ,

October in the UK is MUSHROOM season! Last weekend Mellors and I headed for the New Forest for a two day foraging course with the ace mycologist Mrs Tee.

Mrs Tee is a bit of a legend and it was awesome to spend time with her as she passed on the knowledge from her 35 years of picking and selling wild mushrooms. She is also an exceptional cook and we gorged on wild mushrooms 3 times a day. We stayed at her wonderful Bed & Breakfast in Lymington, home to several black pigs (one of which is an escape artists) and 2 handsome but alarming Great Danes.

Saturday morning was spent learning to identify mushrooms by discussing and handling real mushrooms. These were weird and wonderful and as different from button mushrooms as you can imagine: we met the black trumpet of death or cornucopia, trumpet shaped, edible and frilly; big yellow cauliflower fungus shaped like coral or brains, delicate spindly mushrooms like drunken cocktail umbrellas and fat white parasol mushrooms which shift shape from balls into parasols.

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I had planned to ask why mushrooms have such a magical and mystical reputation, but after a morning’s study I had my answer. Mushrooms are eerie and other-worldly, resembling sea creatures rather than any earthly thing. They grow from dead trees and where fires have been. Mushrooms which burst, blowing their tops off, leave little white goblets in the woods. The stink horn mushroom can be smelled from miles away; and eerily, you can watch it grow before your eyes.  The bears’ foot mushroom is shaggy and hangs from trees, resembling a large paw.  When you stamp on puffball mushrooms, ‘smoke’ plumes out. (The band Röyksopp, which literally means “smoke mushroom”, is named after these).  Mushrooms turn pink and blue and purple and black if you bruise or cook or cut them. And of course, the Death Angel mushroom can kill you in 45 minutes.

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We learned which poisonous mushrooms to avoid – apart from the classic red cap with white warts of fairy stories, we were told to avoid white gills and white caps. Mushrooms with a spongy underside rather than gills are safer, apart from those with red caps. We discovered that mushrooms can be located by foresty clues: chicken of the woods grow on old oak trees and the saffron milk cap under pine.

Then, after a gorgeous lunch of wild mushroom pasta and some banter with Mrs Tee, we set out into the New Forest to forage.The first thing we found were the dainty, lavender colured and gloriously named Amethyst Deceivers.

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We recognised chunky ceps and little white millers which smell like wet dough. After 5 minutes I realised I’d been blind all my life and on every autumn walk in the woods, I’d probably trampled oblivious over delicious free food. Politically I love the idea of wild food being there for the taking, that nature’s bounty belongs to us all. Where else but in the woods do oysters grow on trees?

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Mellors noticed porcelain mushrooms, gleaming and shiny white, clinging to a branch. I sliced saffron milk caps with a pen knife, drawing bright orange blood.

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We spotted beefsteaks high above us in a tree and a little staircase of gleaming mushrooms all the way up a birch, tantalisingly out of reach. Next time we forage, we’re taking a tame monkey.

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Muddy and inspired we finished our forage at dusk and returned to Mrs Tee for another gorgeous meal with a side order of juicy anecdotes before rolling into bed; mushroom-stuffed.

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Mrs Tee:

  • supplies The Grosvenor House Hotel, Le Gavroche, The Connaught, and the Dorchester with wild mushrooms and Marco Pierre White with truffles.
  • was arrested, jailed for five-and-a-half hours, and charged under the Theft Act  by the Forestry Commission for foraging on public land
  • brought a civil action against the Forestry Commission.  She now owns a personal license to pick mushrooms in the New Forest for the rest of her lifetime.
  • can pick 50kg of pied de mouton in three hours.

Some of the mushrooms we learned about:

  • Ceps or porcini – Grows overnight. Can weigh up to 1.5kg per mushroom. Very rich, creamy, fleshy. Slightly sweet.
  • Ceps Rufus (Red)
  • Pied du Mouton or wood hedgehog – Sought after. Goes well with fish, with chicken, in a cream sauce.
  • Beefsteak – Looks like a bloody beefsteak or liver, grows on oak tree, but doesn’t destroy the oak. Chefs use it with fresh foi gras. Tastes sweet, oriental – a specialty mushroom popularised by Antony Worrall Thompson, who has bought them from Mrs Tee.
  • Honey Fungus
  • Chicken of the Wood – Orange on top and lemon-yellow underneath. Tastes of chicken, smells of chicken and cooks like chicken but is more expensive than chicken. The biggest one found by Mrs Tee was 105lb.

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