Mushroom fetish in the forest

Delicious wild saffron milk cup bounty

Fetishes come in all forms, and my friend Lou recently discovered hers is in the shape of a foraged mushroom.

Read on to learn how Lou developed this delicious fetish out in the middle of a pine forest.

Words and pictures by Lou Clifton

Foraging is a word I rarely used until a few weeks ago. But I have since discovered a sub culture of foragers making the most of nature’s kitchen and sharing their discoveries with others through lovely blogged stories and images. I’m now rather hooked on foraging. It’s the antidote for our consumer society, finding food and supplies in the bush and taking what you need. It’s a lovely feeling that is hard to describe until you get a foraging fetish.

 ”It’s the antidote for our consumer society, finding food and supplies in the bush and taking what you need” – Lou Clifton on food foraging

I live and work in the Blue Mountains and had heard about mushroom picking in Oberon but each year I seemed to remember about it just as the season ended. This year I Googled in time and found a bunch of people raving about saffron milk cups and slippery jacks with photos of their massive hauls, some of which seemed mighty greedy. We decided to head out to Oberon and pick a few mushrooms ourselves, tempted by the vision of tripping through magical pine forests, basket in hand and being at one with nature.

The weather had been dismal, which put pay to our usual pastime of rock climbing but was perfect for mushroom hunting. The weather radar showed a patch of sunshine over Oberon so we headed to the visitor centre there and had a chat about mushies. The young girl working there on Sunday was great! She gave us maps showing the best areas to go to, pictures and brochures and some of the real thing to take with us to identify what’s good to pick and what’s good to just photograph. In half an hour we were driving on a fire trail through one of the many state pine forests wondering how long it would take to find some mushrooms. It took about two minutes as there they were lining the side of the road! I was like a child looking out of the window and yelling ‘look, look! Stop, stop!’


Slippery jack on the forest floor

We pulled over and wandered into the trees where you could barely place a foot without treading on a large orange saffron milk cup, peeking up through the pine needles. We had filled a basket within minutes (cutting the stems so they can regrow rather than pulling them out) and thought our day out might be briefer than expected. I took back my accusation of the bloggers being greedy – there was truly enough mushrooms for many many foragers to be happy. Mushrooms as far as the eye could see!

Lucky we had come prepared and brought out two more large boxes that we stacked with milk caps and slippery jacks, which were a bit harder to find. We kept the slippery jacks separate as they were less obvious than the bright orange saffrons and we didn’t want them to touch in case we had picked the wrong type. I couldn’t stop taking photos of these totally cool organisms poking through the pine needles everywhere. We also found some more deadly varieties, distinctive with their bright red or orange caps with white spots.

Look but don't eat - stay away from dangerous mushrooms

Look but don’t eat – stay away from dangerous (but pretty) mushrooms

An old local character pulled up and had a chat to us. I had picked a few blackberries and he told us there were better bushes further up at a junction. We switched foraging for mushrooms and spent a long time filling up whatever containers we could find with blackberries. Far more time consuming but just wonderful as the last time I had picked blackberries was with my nana as a child in England, some 30 years ago. She had shown me how to make a summer pudding, a traditional dessert made with white bread and blackberries. I’m going to make one of those again and send her a photo I thought to myself. It was scratchy but heavenly.

And it got better; we had brought a stove, butter and garlic and set about a sautéed mushroom picnic lunch in the forest. Yum. My husband looked so panicked when I pretended to have a stomach ache that I felt really guilty! Maybe not my best joke.

Picking wild blackberries

Picking wild blackberries

We then packed three shopping bags full of pine cones for the fire, and set off home via the visitor centre – where the lovely girl checked out our mushrooms  and gave us a recipe for saffron milk cups with pine nuts and parsley. We made that for dinner and more again for friends a few days later. The rest we dried in our dehydrator. It was such a fun day and so rewarding to find your own food rather than buy it from Coles.

Mushrooms can be foraged for throughout autumn but make sure you get some good advice on what to pick. Slippery Jacks need the slimy skin on the cap and the spongy part underneath removed before eating but they are a beautiful tasting mushroom related to the porcini family and worth the effort.

We were so happy with our haul but be warned, it was quite a lot of work preparing, cooking and drying mushrooms and making summer pudding and blackberry pie.

So go forth and forage! Any one else going mushroom picking this season?

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