There’s not mushroom on the table part II……

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October 15th 2015 saw the second round of one of our even more extraordinary outdoor events:  a Mushroom Foray with the inimitable John Wright, mycologist, writer, cabinet maker and TV personality. The event started at 10am with a quick briefing from Simon, and an invitation to try a gift bought for Simon by Marc, web site designer extraordinaire and one of the participants. This was Black Cow – a strong, flavoursome, crystalline wax- covered cheddar made in Dorset, but more importantly a beautifully smooth fragrant vodka to accompany it; distilled entirely from the left over whey from the cheese – the perfect symbiotic relationship, and both delicious too!  This was swiftly followed by a taster of Irish porridge, created by Mary, the 75 year old cook at  Belle Isle Castle, Enniskillen, and consisting of jumbo oats, mixed with full fat milk and water, cooked and served with double cream, brown sugar and a nip of Jameson’s Irish whiskey – I have vowed to only eat my porridge cooked this way in future…….then a superb Foragers’ Breakfast prepared expertly by Heart Kitchen’s own Simon and Sue Gale and consisting of Buckinghamshire Bacon Badger, a local dish, the secret recipe of which was passed down from Simon’s Great Granny, a lightly steamed then baked suet crust, stuffed full of roasted gammon, potatoes, parsley, sage and onions and accompanied by a fried egg and a spoonful of barbecued mixed beans – I will never again open a tin of 57 varieties………and if that wasn’t enough to satisfy the hunger and fortify everyone for a day’s foray, there was a selection of sour dough and soda breads from yours truly, and Pam, the queen of taste. Everyone introduced themselves; Sue invited everyone to share their names and one word to describe how they were feeling. It was a little difficult to know who was who, as Bob, Reg, Kevin and Malcolm swapped name tags just like naughty school boys – a taste of the antics of the rest of the day! Most people were excited, curious, nervous, anticipatory or hungry; Simon had to be restrained as he wanted say a lot more than one word; John was ‘responsible’ and Bob was ‘sexy’!! Before we left, Simon released a few Signal Crayfish onto the breakfast table, (live of course) and invited the participants to despatch them in a large pan of boiling water as we would need the tails and shell for our chowder supper. Plunging live shell fish seems a barbaric way of seeing them off, but research has proved that the creatures don’t  feel pain like mammals would, and the noise that is sometimes heard is only air whistling from the shells. And finally it was time to head down to the woods……..Malcolm in charge of the sloe gin, Simon Minett- the Dorset cow vodka, Donna Minnett the inedible basket and Sarah the edible. We set off with the intention of beating last year’s record of 52 different species.  Haleacre Wood is 76 acres of mostly beech and hornbeam, with a few birch, pine and hawthorn scattered randomly throughout, and there are many brambles, nettles and foxgloves lining the paths. After a few minutes tramping through the field, we had found a few very common samples; Mycena ‘Pink Bonnet’, ‘Lycoperdon pyriforme’ or Stamp puffball (deliciously edible), and Clitocyte odora which had a greenish cap and smelt slightly of aniseed. John happily regaled us with his foraging tales and the stories behind the naming of certain species; (see one of his many books, ‘The Naming of the Shrew’ for more stories) one favourite is a mushroom known as Inocybe eutheles, which is a small conical chap with a raised round button on the top of the dome. No surprise then that eu means good or great in Greek and theles means teat or nipple, so literally translates as ‘Nice Tits!’ (Only a few people looked at Sue, Rose and Steph at this point….) The party were very excited with all their finds; Tina our artist for the day was finding it hard to contain herself, she sees a personality in each species, many of them being wood elves or nymphs, she was beside herself with the joy she was getting from a simple walk in the wood. Stephanie our photographer for the day, capturing beautiful moments, participants and of course the stunning array of mushrooms, check out her website As the morning progressed, our baskets filled with both edible and interesting species, all beautiful, and all with a story – John really made the morning so exciting, enthusing us with his knowledge and passion for his subject. The Marlow party were enjoying themselves tremendously, getting John to run back and forth tripping over brambles and flint piles abandoned by lone gone moles and badgers to identify their finds, whilst glugging the sloe gin to keep warm. As usual, once you get your eye in, the woods become Mushroom City and from being like searching for a needle in a haystack, you suddenly realise that you are surrounded by hundreds of different types of fungi, toadstool, lichen, coral and mushroom, all with different characteristics. We found edible Laccaria amethystina (amethyst deceiver), Lepista nuda (beautiful edible lilac wood blewits), and plenty of Clitocybe nebularis (clouded funnel) -sadly poisonous, sadly because they were everywhere and LOOKED as if they were edible though this is not a reason to EVER eat a mushroom! We also found a brown roll rim (Paxillus involutus) which was the most deadly toadstool find of the day. Apparently it doesn’t kill you first time you eat it, but the deadly toxins build up in your system until eventually you eat what you don’t know is going to be your last meal……………rather sinister, a bit like playing Russian roulette! And so back to the Curious Kitchen for an hour of preparing, chopping stirring, peeling, smashing, tasting, whisking, baking, sautéing, eating cake and drinking tea (for some, others were well on the way with the beers and wines!) chocolate and sweet potato cake, fruit cake and carrot cakes were laid out by Kim to fill the gap of hunger before dinner, some of the hardy participants went back out to see what they could find on their own, John set about meticulously labelling , Steph was running around with her Leica, snapping away, Tina was on the floor covered in paint(!) and everyone else continued getting involved with preparations for supper. Tina’s excitement had turned into, what I could only describe as gay abandon, painting onto the canvas with her bare hands in a style of Van Gogh high on Absinthe…..Visit her on Facebook…… By 3.30 everyone was back and gathered around John’s mushroom table to listen to a recounting of everything we had found. (62 species I’m told). It was inevitable, partly due to John’s witty delivery and double entendres, partly due to the fact that much alcohol had been imbibed and partly due to the general funny,  light hearted feel of the day,  that some members of the party were going to get the uncontrollable giggles, especially when John held up a large specimen and announced it was called Phallus impudicus, – witches egg or Stinkhorn; a Volva, and Lactarius glyciosimus, which has an uncanny resemblance to a female reproductive organ……all this sent Paul completely over the edge, and he had to be requested to stand in a corner until he could control himself! He later apologised to John, who was rather flattered that his talk had been found so funny! And so to the pudding challenge: Sue with Bob, Susie, Malcolm, Rose and Andy for the New York Cheesecake; Pam with Reg, Laura, Donna O, Paul, Sarah and Kev for autumn fruit crumble; Simon with Donna and Simon M, Dave and Terry for blackberry clafoutis; and me with Marc, Jacqui, Trax and Andy for Plum Tarte Tatin.  Everyone set to, measuring, chopping, glazing, whisking and adding liqueurs and spices; baking, toasting and sampling their desserts, hoping to win the esteemed prize…….. Nothing. Dinner was served…… Slices of sourdough, toasted with olive oil and  scattered with puffballs, wood blewits and amethyst deceivers gently fried in butter, garlic and parsley, (absolutely sublime); pumpkin roasted with olive oil, sea salt and scattered with griddled parmesan crisps and toasted pine nuts; the best signal crayfish chowder anyone had ever tasted, chunky chilli con carne with sweetcorn and potato bread; Jarlsberg, sweet potato and onion tart; followed by all the desserts. The competition was judged by Sue, John and I; The Tarte Tatin ruled out as the pastry wasn’t cooked through, though it was very tasty – it had a very soggy bottom; the clafoutis was slightly undercooked so therefore a bit stodgy, but again, taste was great; the cheesecake was made beautifully though unfortunately it was still hot, so was more reminiscent of an egg custard, and they weren’t allowed any autumn fruits to enhance the flavour, which left the apple and spicy liqueur crumble as the outright (not really) winner! Simon thought this was more to do with the fact that John’s favourite pudding was crumble than anything else, but hey ho, Donna was just pleased that Marc hadn’t won anything!! What an amazing day! We all finished up sitting around the curious kitchen’s outdoor dining area, bonfire blazing with golden heat, drinking wine, chewing the fat, finishing up left overs, and vowing to not only come back next year and enjoy another day searching for the fruits of the forest, but trying to persuade John to come back in the spring to lead us on a hedgerow and booze –making day, I for one, can’t wait!!! Footnote On returning to Heart Kitchen on Friday morning to collect our cars, I spotted 3 very different types of fungi in the wood. On asking John what each one was, he replied to the first find, ‘Oh come on Celia you must remember this one? It’s a clouded funnel’. To the second find, he replied ‘Clitocybes nebularis, clouded funnel’, And to the third question, ‘Oh come on Celia, didn’t you learn anything yesterday? It’s a Clouded FUNNEL!!! ‘ ‘Oh yes, Clitocybes NEBULARIS!’  said I! The point is, those 3 mushrooms were all growing in different locations, firstly in deep beech woodland, secondly along a gravelly path leading to a field, and thirdly, along the side of a road….. and they all looked different to the one before. The moral of this anecdote is NEVER eat any mushroom or toadstool unless you are 100% positive what it is. There are many deadly species amongst the 7000 fungi in the UK, some will kill you, others will give you a very nasty bout of gasto-enteritis, whilst some of them will even send you off into the sky with Lucy and her diamonds. So if you wish to eat some of the 400-500 edible species you will need to follow a very reliable mushroom key, take photos, read books and keep going on courses like ours! And some amazing pictures of our day…..

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.