Sunday, 7 April 2013

In search of wild mushrooms

I love cooking with fresh mushrooms but it has only been in recent years that have I taken up foraging for my own. Autumn, after a period of rain, is the best time to search for them as this is the peak time for the fruiting bodies (the caps) to appear above the ground. Best to pick in the morning, that way you get fresh mushrooms and you avoid damage by slugs.

Care should always be taken when picking wild mushrooms 
This poisonous Fly Agaric is often found growing in pine plantations 

Apparently in France pharmacists are trained in identifying edible mushrooms and hesitant customers often bring in their finds to chemist shops for a second opinion on their culinary suitability  In Australia there is no such service and we have to rely on reference books and the knowledge of experienced pickers.

Well aware that many fungi are poisonous I decided to get some books out of the library for identification purposes before I began my search. One of the best books on Australian mushrooms is A Field Guide to Australian Fungi by Bruce Fuhrer (Bloomings Books). This well illustrated reference work describes over 500 fungus species, many of which are endemic to Australia. These vary from slime moulds to giant 1 metre wide caps.

While most Australian species are known to botanists little is known of their culinary qualities. While Aboriginal people would have been aware of the individual merits of local fungi most of this knowledge has been lost since European colonisation. While Bruce Fuhrer is probably aware of the chemical make up of his listed fungi he is reluctant to give the green light to safe caps apart from a handful of species. These are mainly Northern Hemisphere species which have arrived with the importation of conifers trees and other exotics.

The undersides of two common edible mushrooms
Saffron Milk Cap (left) and Slippery Jack

My research has taught me me that it is best to search for mushrooms that are growing in large pine tree plantations as the fungi found there is well documented in specialist reference books. My first foraging exhibition was to the Sunny Corner State Forest in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. This large conifer plantation consisted of thousands of acres of pine trees.

Soon after entering the plantation I was aware of the presence of a large number of mushrooms on the forest floor. Referring to my reference book I soon noticed two edible species growing there. These included the Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius deliciosus) and the Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus). But as well as these caps there were many red coloured mushrooms appearing in the area. According to my guide this was the posionous Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Before eating, make sure you have picked a safe species. Use all your senses when doing your examination and make sure you take along a suitable reference book. Of the two edible mushrooms shown above, I prefer the Saffron Milk Cap. Although not having a strong taste this mushroom as a meaty texture and works well with dishes that need a long cook. It makes a good seasonal alternative to the common field mushroom found in supermarkets.

Happy foraging.

1 comment:

  1. I learnt to identify Saffron Milk Caps 2 years ago from an fungi expert. They grow around my area and I've been picking them since. Around about now (early autumn) is when they start appearing.


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