A day Foraging the Forest…

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Oh what a day for a mushroom foray………   Autumn came round rather slowly last year, the weather stayed mild, the leaves stayed on the trees and boy did it rain nearly every other day!  (Perfect for mushrooms we later found out).  A group of friends had got together one gusty Saturday morning at the end of October near the seaside in Bournemouth,  to blow the cobwebs away and were wondering whether to avoid the rain or risk trench foot?  We inevitably decided to risk the trench foot option, and drove to a semi-secret location on the edge of the New Forest to meet up with 7 other happy foragers and our leader, the redoubtable John Wright, otherwise known as the River Cottage Forager, mushroom expert, raconteur and bon viveur. We arrived promptly at 10.30, to be met by John and his lovely wife Diane, who was busy unloading their car and laying out an interesting assortment of bottles and cans. John proceeded to tell us that it was essential (for health and safety reasons) to have a ‘foragers nip’ and had brought an interesting assortment of homemade flavoured vodkas, gins and beers, not to mention single malt whiskies for anyone who wanted a more traditional branded nip! Needless to say no-one needed persuading! John lead us around the car park area and encouraged us to look round us to see what was growing in the open; It was certainly eye opening and was quite amazing to realise that we were walking over numerous different fungi before we had even started! We had two baskets – one for edibles and one for inedible/poisonous specimens, with John suggesting that we all searched and shouted for him when we found something – he could then identify what we found. I was quite literally stunned at how many different fungi were unearthed as we strolled around the fields and adjoining beech and pine woods, John Wright was able to identify at least 90% of them positively, and tell us a story around them, – his passion for his subject is inspirational, and he is extremely generous with his  knowledge! We found Cauliflower fungus, which looks just like its name sake and is to be found growing on old pine; Amethyst deceivers, which are quite bright purple and translucent and do not look edible but actually taste delicious; Bay boletus which are a close relative of the much sought after porcini or cep, all of which are edible, we also found plenty of puffballs, hedgehog mushrooms, milkcaps, brittlegills, millers, inkcaps, not to mention the odd magic mushroom, although apparently not enough to take a cockroach to a euphoric state so we didn’t bother collecting them! (it is also apparently illegal to pick them if you know what they are!) John and Diane left us to go and start preparing the lunch and the group carried on exploring – foraging is an extremely pleasant way to while away many hours….. my husband Bob, who has the attention span of a gnat, was kept interested all day as his walking had a purpose! We feasted on homemade……cream of mushroom soup which was absolutely delicious; fresh rolls stuffed with roast beef and horseradish; smoked salmon and cream cheese, and cheese and chutney; John had made River Cottage honey and almond cake, there was fresh fruit, and plenty of beer and wine to wash it down with. It all tasted so much better eating outdoors too. After lunch, John remained in the field to lay out all of our specimens and to name them ,while Diane took the rest of us off into another wood to forage a bit more. We bumped into throngs of foragers who all seemed to have baskets full of Bay boletes – the trick is not to pick too many if you come across a crop – always leave some for the next man, and always leave some behind so that the species remains fruitful in that area. We all tramped across woodland – much is to be found on the edge of pathways – there did not appear to be much in the thickest parts of the forest, or maybe it was just harder to find….. we spent a pleasant couple of hours, collected may more specimens, and didn’t even realise it had been chucking it down all afternoon, so busy were we with our heads down! We wandered back to the parking area and John had laid out some 60 different species of fungi and had labelled them all with both their common and Latin names for our perusal – it was a spectacular display, and it seemed that we had collected only marginally less inedible than edible species. John laid the edible ones on the grass that he was going to cook up for us – he said he always likes to have a photo as evidence for the coroner…….;-) The Cauliflower fungus was delightful; we loved the Amethyst deceivers, the Miller and the hedgehog mushrooms; some were a little slimy, taking on the texture of a wet dishcloth if left too long to get cool; but all tasted different, mushroomy and best of all, they were free food that we had lovingly foraged for! I can’t thank John and Diane enough for what was an absolutely entertaining and educational (in a good way) day, one of which I hope to repeat often. Look out for his hedgerow and Seashore Forays too. NB Never eat any fungi unless you can make a 100% positive identification – some unlucky foragers never lived to share the tale…….   Visit John Wright’s website: www.wild-food.net Books: Mushrooms, Edible Seashore, Booze and Hedgerow are all available from amazon.com

Author: Celia

The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.