Foraging for mushrooms

The mist curls in through the valley as we leave the house early last Saturday morning.  It bodes well – the signs of a warming earth after the prior week’s soaking rain.  We are off on an excursion to learn about mushroom foraging organised by Roushanna Gray from “Veld and Sea”.  She is an authority on edible indigenous plants and runs excellent courses on foraging and the culinary arts.  She has teamed up with Justin Williams, an expert on mushrooms and the outing to Newlands forest is an introduction to harvesting edible varieties.  After the hunt Roushanna presents picnic fare based around culinary delights and the health benefits of mushrooms.

In the preamble describing the outing which we received by email there is an allusion to sensory experience:  “Mushroom foraging is also known as “the silent hunt”, where your senses come to the fore in order to track and locate these hidden fungal treasures.”

We set the GPS coordinates and after arriving at the destination wonder how we will identify our ‘man’ in the busy carpark.   It isn’t a problem, there he is beaming with a basket in hand which contains a huge porcini.   Some mushrooms are big, but this is one prize specimen.  As the group gathers it’s like a magnet, drawing comments of awe.

“Where did you find it?”  Is the overall chorus.

“On the side of the freeway coming into the park, it was there basking in the sun,”  says Justin.

We hadn’t yet started the hunt and already it is off to an auspicious start.

New laws require a collecting permit, which entitle the holder to collect one basket. Justin as permit holder is appointed the official “Keeper of the all Mushrooms”.

It’s clear that as Justin briefs us on the subject, he is passionate about mushrooms.   We’re impressed by his broad knowledge and hang onto his words as he covers matters of identification, medicinal properties, folklore, history to the description of the fascinating underground part of the fungi network – the mycelium.   We’re to come away with a new respect for this remarkable organism. The efficacious effects such as the Turkey tail which research shows a role in combating cancer; or the crucial ecological role in the decomposition of organic matter and the nutrient cycling in the environment.  Though not least are it’s culinary delights, and a whole new discovery of sensory umami.

The beckoning forest is a kind of enchanted Tolkienish, an alchemy of fecund earth and pine scent.

Within moments of setting off along the path, Justin’s internal antennae twitch and he spots quite the most fabulous speciman:  a Shaggy parasol.

It’s enormous, elaborate, textural  and we’re filled with a sense of reverence; into the basket it goes.  As we spot different species, Justin guides us through the identification process.   Toxic species like the panthercap or the fly agaric (highly hallucinogenic) could be confused with the Blusher (non toxic) species, and he warns it’s best not to take the risk in picking them.

There is a good yield of edible species: porcini (penny bun), bay boletus, pine rings and field mushrooms.  All are discovered with great deal of excitement.

The experience is topped by Roushanna’s wonderful picnic fare.  We start with an elixir – a drink which includes Turkey tail for it’s health giving properties; a tot of celebratory brandy buchu gives us a further boost.  Next is a rich earthy wild mushroom soup flavoured with marog, wild spinach, amaranth. This is followed by a delicious smorgasbord of green leaves, flowers and an aubergine and mushroom pate.  The finale is a heavenly brownie slice.  It’s pure decadence – boldly rich, the chocolate is as dark as the forest earth.  It’s texture is dense and flavours of truffle dust, num-num berries and foraged pine nuts seduce the palate.

Also at the picnic is Meghan Werner, the founder and brewmistress of Theonista kombucha tea.  The beverage is a delicious health enhancing product in combination of various flavours.  I choose the Rooibos and ginger, and there is also Rooibos and pomegranite, or green tea.   It’s a slightly effervescent  and tangy – an elixir made from tea and living cultures.

The whole experience is a treat; gathering food with a sense of sharing and appreciation.   I for one will be watching out for more from Roushanna’s inspiring programme of upcoming events and I’m hoping to follow Justin’s expanding recipe collection…. roll on fungi inspiration.




31 thoughts on “Foraging for mushrooms

    1. It was quite the culinary adventure 🙂 It’s a huge genus – over 800 varieties here. I guess Australia would have similar figures. It was interesting to learn that the edible variety like porcinis, bay boletus and pine rings are associated with specific trees – pine trees, poplar and cork oaks none of which are indigenous to the our forests. I image it could be a similar situation in Australia? Anyway caution is the word! Some of these little beauties are killers.

  1. Most interesting outing Liz, how wonderful to just freely pick food from the forest as our indigenous ancestors would have done. What a wonderful experience you enjoyed:-)

    1. It was most enjoyable 🙂 and i rather enjoyed that aspect of being out ‘gathering’. Interestingly the San Bushmen prized a local type of ‘truffle’ found in the desert area. I believe it is as good as the truffles found in Europe.

  2. Great post! I used to go for mushrooms all the time as a kid. We ate, what we liked and sold the rest. Thus, I could afford to buy my first bike. And parasol are among my favourite mushrooms (next to porcini and chanterelles). Breaded like Wiener Schnitzel, and fried in butter, a parasol almost tastes like tender veal.

    1. How’s that for being an enterprising child! What a culinary experience, the wild mushrooms have a far deeper flavour than the commercially grown. What a treat to have grown up knowing what to pick.

      1. True. But even more important: knowing where to pick. The mountainous region around my grandparents house is full with hidden spots, where the mushrooms come every year. The secret of the whereabout exactly is kept up to a high age. Only then it is passed on to a favourite child or grandchild.

      2. Ah… so there’s a whole tradition that goes with the territory. Almost like a rite of passage 🙂 Those mushrooms must be treasured … like an heirloom 🙂

  3. I remember picking mushrooms with my grandmother, but they were only simple filed mushrooms, no other varieties. This must have been a brilliant day exploring nature’s bounty and the Finbos days on the website must be tempting too.

    1. Lovely memory to recall Gilly. Bet the wild field variety had flavour than the shop bought. This was quite a culinary adventure and has opened up all new kinds of opportunity to investigate. Roushanna’s website is pretty inspiring – also the health properties of some of the local plants as well as sea harvesting seaweeds / kelp are beneficial for the diet.

    1. Yes, true – i learnt a lot and feel reasonably confident i could identify four of the edible variety now. It’s interesting that these mushrooms are mainly associated with the northern hemisphere varieties as they were imported along with the pines, oaks, poplar trees – to our advantage such heavenly deliciousness 🙂

      1. That is interesting… mycology is so important to an ecosystem. I wonder how this has impacted yours. At least you are enjoying the results. 🙂 I guess there is no place on earth where humans haven’t introduced non-native species. We’re homogenizing the world.

      2. What a beneficial role in cleaning up decomposing detritus, on the forest floor. Interesting conversation on mycelium in decontaminating pollution, radiation – apparently trialling use of mushrooms in Fukushima area to break down the radiation in the soil.

      3. It is pretty fascinating and exciting research. Mycelium also can break down oil spills and plastic. Imagine letting it loose in the landfills!

  4. What an amazing experience to share with us. I was surprised to see you had to have a licence to pick. Will you be going out on your own to search for more mushrooms? I am having mushrooms for tea tonight but they were cultivated and bought from the green grocers, but still delicious but I imagine not as rich and earthy as fresh picked in the wild.

    1. Have now become hooked on mushroom hunting! Went out the very next day to a different area to see if we could spot any – and happily yes so we will return when we have the licence. So delicious when freshly picked and eaten on the same day. Not to dismiss the shop bought variety though – a culinary treat either way.

      1. Fortunately it’s free, i’m guessing that the park authorities are trying to monitor the numbers of pickers and also exclude vulnerable areas which have been devastated through fire.

  5. What a wonderful day to enjoy the day. I think the collectors permit is a great idea for conservation purposes. We don’t have them here in Panama, we should. My boy and I just got into mushroom hunting and they really are enjoying it. We need to take a mushroom foraging class. Inspirational post thank you.

    1. Hi Eris, had a quick browse through your blog site and curious about your world – a different tropical setting there in Panama. One tip we got was to respect any mushroom with white gills – they’re mostly poisonous. Though not sure whether that holds up in the tropics? The ones with ‘sponge’ like the boletes and porcinis are the prized edible varieties. Wishing you good hunting!

      1. Thank you for the wonderful feed back. You just answered a question we had about the gills and edibles. Will keep you posted if it applies to the tropics. Once again, thanks.

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