Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tips for mushroom season...

Mushroom season has hit our area with the arrival of heavy rains and the resultant damp earth. Before the weather becomes too cold with the bitter chill of winter, the ground sends up fascinating offerings to view and admire..and sometime even eat. After spending a few outings recently collecting such offerings I thought it would be a good idea to talk about mushroom hunting for anyone considering partaking in this most enjoyable (but cautious) activity.

I first learned to identify a handful of mushrooms a few years ago when a good friend and I booked in to participate in a fungi workshop offered through our local neighbourhood house. For anyone considering going out into the wild to partake  of some edible delights, I would definitely suggest booking yourself into a similar course FIRST, so that you are not relying on heresay when identifying your 'shrooms.

The workshop my friend and I went to was extremely informative and included an entire morning spent viewing photos and slides of all types of fungi, from the lethal to the edible. The workshop also had a spectacular display of locally gathered fungi in various stages of their development. During the afternoon, the group headed out to a nearby location for hands on fungi identification and tasting. You can read about this workshop, way back here. 

Once you feel you are armed with more than enough knowledge to avoid the dangerous (lethal) mushrooms, and safely identify those praised for eating, you will want to consider the logistics; where to go, what time of day, what to take and so on.

Where to go depends largely of your knowledge of the local area, or, if you are not within mushrooming range, knowledge of the area you intend to travel. Find out a little about the area you are heading into. Is the area elevated and subject to heavy mists/fog or cooler temperatures? Pack extra coats! Is it on a steep slope? Wear sturdy footwear. Is the area on a dirt road and is this accessible after heavy rains? Plan your vehicle or perhaps consider parking a safe distance away and walking. Common sense plays a big part here. :)

What time of day should I venture out? Often, the most prized hunting grounds are already well known by other 'hunters' in your chosen area. If you are serious about hunting your mushrooms, you may like to consider heading out early, before day trippers from further afield make it to your location before you. It can sometimes even pay to make a short session or two mid week if you are close by, when most day trippers are tucked up at home or work and not planning a trip until the weekend.

It is also not uncommon for cafes and local restaurants to gather wild mushrooms to include on their menus, or market stall holders to offer at farmers markets, so if your favourite area is also frequented by such folk, heading out the earliest you possibly can after a bout of rain, can prove to be more successful than waiting until the weekend.

What to take?

  • Aside from the obvious warm clothing and sturdy footwear, pack a coat and hat as mushrooming grounds are nearly always cold.
  • Fingerless gloves are another welcome addition because when you find a good patch, there is little time for hands to be sitting idle in warm coat pockets!
  • A small knife is a must, as when harvesting mushrooms, it is the etiquette to cut just below the surface of the ground, to leave the unearthed section behind to reproduce again the following season. Some people prefer specialty mushrooming knives that come with a brush attached to one end, however I find that a simple steak knife is quite adequate for my needs.
  • A basket with lid is also a welcome addition. I have hunted without bags, large shopping bags and open baskets before, but by far the best investment was a $3 wicker picnic basket from my local thrift shop that has two hinged flaps to open, thereby protecting the mushrooms if it happens to rain. The basked can also easily be hosed off once emptied, in readiness for the next session. 
  • A mushroom guide book (or app), mobile phone, map of the area, snack and water bottle and camera are also items worth considering. 
  • To begin with, I would suggest always hunting with another person, as with two people identifying, errors are less likely to occur. As you gain confidence in your mushrooming abilities, solo ventures will start calling to you, but remember to tell someone if you are 'shrooming alone, for safety's sake. 

When out there..
**Only take what you know to be 110% safe to eat!! It seems obvious, but you have really got to be absolutely certain that what you are picking is not going to harm yourself or your loved ones.**

Try and steer clear of other hunters, as it could be considered impolite to hunt alongside them. There is plenty of forest out there, so find another section to look in.

Only take what you need! It can be all too easy to come home with a basket overflowing with mushrooms that you don't get around to using, so please, only take what you intend to use and save the rest for other keen hunters. I believe that is the golden rule of foraging - always leave something behind for the next person.

Have fun! Once you know what you are looking for, mushrooming can be great fun and an enjoyable social activity or an opportunity for peaceful solitude. Either way, it's a great way to spend some of these autumn days before the seriously chilled blast of winter hits.

Do you hunt mushrooms? Do you have any tips for the new hunter that you'd like to share? What is your favourite way to cook foraged mushrooms? Please share in the comments section below!

Be safe out there and happy hunting!

**I choose to hunt only Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarious Delicious) to feed myself and my family. They grow well in our local area in the pine forests and are extremely difficult to mistake with any other mushroom. They have a distinctive orange appearance, ooze a saffron coloured sap when cut and their flesh turns an oxidised green when it is bruised. More information on this edible mushroom can be found here.**

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Slow Living Essentials - Monthly 9 link-up - April 2014

Hello once again! It's nice to be in this space again. April saw our weather turn and a sudden need for firewood and woolen tops where previously there were swimming towels and thongs!

 Join me as I reflect on the past month and progress made in our everyday lives under nine banners. Feel like joining in? It's simple, just leave a link to your blog post written using these nine categories, in the box below anytime during the month of May and enjoy hopping over to like minded blogs to see what others have been up to.

For more details on this blog link-up, please see this post. 

April 2014

I love when the cooler weather hits and dictates bonfire season! Fire restrictions were lifted and suddenly our town was marked by plumes of smoke rising from little pockets through the trees. This change in weather also announced woodfired oven season. Having been way too long between firings, it was so nice to enjoy cooking with our big outdoor brick oven this month, and using the smaller chiminea and campfire for intimate gatherings on weekends.

Home cooked woodfired pizza and homebrew pale ale - a match made in heaven!

Baked apples were a new discovery for the woodfired oven, they go so well in it - producing a wonderfully tender, apple with a caramelised crust that oozes golden, juicy goodness! So, so good. We have also been returning to warming soups and slow cooked meals, and I am finding this way of cooking so very convenient. Slow cooked pulled pork served with stewed local apples, lamb shank and vegetable broth and good old hearty vegetable soups are my current favourite sources of comfort in the kitchen these days. Oats are also big on the menu for me, and with cutting back on wheat for health issues, I am finding I that oats are still totally ok for me, which is great because I love having a big steaming bowl full for breakfast on these frosty mornings! They keep me going for hours..

Baked apples - a seriously good addition to any woodfired oven baker's repertoire 

Somehow, I don't know how, I managed to keep on top of all those beans that we had last month, so my preserving was focusing mainly around preparing meals and freezing them. We had nowhere near enough tomatoes to bottle this year, which was a bit of a disappointment, but this has motivated me to try all the harder (earlier?) next summer. 

I have been 'making do' in the garden this month. Pulling old, not in use climbing frames out for growing peas on and repairing areas of edging and fencing where we could really do with new. I bought a second hand rabbit hutch and with a few minor adjustments, am using it for a mobile chicken tractor for my silky mama hen and her (fast growing!) chicks. Opp shopping also proved fruitful for an upcoming child's birthday present and a warm jacket for myself. 

Mushrooming season hit our area this month and it was with great delight I took to the mountainside, pooch falling in step beside me, to comb the piney earth for edible treasures. Forgaging, fresh air and walking for leisure while exercising the dog, is there a greener way to spend an afternoon with such entertainment value? 

Biking is still happening and I am advancing into territory I have not traveled before - slopes and gravelly back roads, pine forest tracks and bush bashing with chains flying off, all new experiences that enhance my exploration of our local area.  It's amazing how many hills a person notices once they start biking! I could've sworn we lived in a fairly flat part of town, but apparently not!!

With the frosts came the slowing down of the beans and other summer veg. Old zucchini plants were pulled up and the beds dug over to be replaced with broad beans, peas and very soon, garlic. Several chooks are having a moult so egg numbers are also down.

What was surprising was finding a secret stash of potatoes where I was sure I had previously harvested. How is it that you can miss a spud the size of your hand the first time around? Very weird. Perennial leeks are also back and kale is getting to a harvestable size, and we watch and wait in anticipation for the first broccoli. Oh, and we have lemons! The lemon tree is at long last producing some decent sized fruit!

Autumn always makes me want to dye things! Maybe it's the crispness in the air that makes my mind shift towards all things woolly and warm and then thinking about colours of such woolly things that does it. I satisfied a small urge by redyeing a cowl and some fingerless mittens that I had knit some time back and just wasn't happy with the colour. They were a bright green and just not me, so after a soak in the pot, came out a deep gray/blue which I am much happier with. Unfortunately no pic of the knits, just the dye pot I'm afraid! The spinning wheel has also been out and treadling, it has to be the cool weather, yep, I'm absolutely sure of it. ;)

I recently picked up a couple of copies of PLY from my spinning group's library and fell in love with this publication! Created by Jacey Boggs, who I think is just amazing, I was completely absorbed from cover to cover. 
Michael Pollan is also on my bookshelf at the moment with 'Cooked' and number one on my reading wishlist at the moment is My Darling Lemon Thyme - a cookbook focusing on gluten, dairy and sugar free that looks just soo good, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy! (hint *mothersday**cough*hint)

Being on the receiving end of this category is always nice. I was at a spinning friend's house this past week picking up some preserving jars that a local preserver was offloading and she asked if I'd like to take a look around the garden. After the immediate yes (and subsequent hour and a half tour plus leaving three times, three times I say, before I actually passed through the front gate), her and her husband sent me off with a wealth of new gardening facts, a bottle of their homebrewed apple wine, a big bag of allium bulbs to plant and another bag of early cropping tomatoes for me to save for seed! Gosh, I just love it when gardening folk connect, we all talk the same talk and walk the same walk!

Out and around town, I was also excited to come across a magical little door that had recently appeared. What fun to see this on my biking travels! Too special..

Over the school holiday portion of the month, I took my youngest daughter away for a camping weeking up on the Murray River. Glorious weather, good company and simple camping style made for a great time away. We also had a beautiful family gathering here at our place on the Easter weekend, with my family and nieces and nephew. Again, great company, the woodfired oven, campfire, toasty marshmallows and mulled wine made for a memorable, relaxing day. I love this kind of gathering!

 How was your month?