It’s the winter school holidays of 1973. I’m ten years old and our family is living in a small country town called Saddleworth in the mid north of South Australia. There’s a treasure trove of mushrooms popping up amongst the cow pats in the paddock behind our home.
Our cousins from Adelaide are visiting. Armed with buckets and knives, we walk through the paddock gate early one morning only to discover every last mushroom has vanished overnight!
That night at the pub, my Dad and Uncle Bob are regaling the other patrons with the mystery of the missing mushrooms when a guy walks in selling a box filled with them. ‘We knew straight away that they were ours but we never said a thing,’ says Dad. ‘He was an elderly local man who’d fallen on really hard times. We gave him five bucks for the lot and took them home for dinner.’
I love this story because it reminds me to be kind and generous just like my Dad. It also affirms my commitment to embrace nature’s bountiful offerings just as we did growing up.
Foraging for mushrooms has been one of our greatest joys on the farm. Saffron Milk Caps have been in plenteous supply growing wherever there are pine trees (of which we have many!). These mushrooms are mycorrhizal which means they grow in symbiotic relationship with the roots of the pine tree.
Ric with our first harvest of Saffron Milk Caps.
Saffron’s are meaty in texture, hold their form well and are mild in flavour. We’ve been eating them in scrambled eggs, stir-fried with onions and garlic, in paella or Ric’s famous mushroom risotto. (Read to the end for the recipe.)
A few weeks ago, we joined Max’s May Mushroom Meander on the Mornington Peninsula. Max Paganoni is the proprietor and chef of Max’s Restaurant at Red Hill Estate. On this walk we discovered another edible mushroom called Slippery Jacks. Although we’d already spotted them on the farm, we hadn’t felt confident enough to eat them as yet.
Slippery Jacks (yellow) and Saffron Milk Caps (orange) from Max’s Mushroom Meander.
Slippery Jacks have a spongelike gill, are slimy in texture and according to Max taste a little like Porcini’s when dried. Max’s big tip is to dehydrate them and grind them into a powder for adding to soups and stews.
Foraging for mushrooms in the Mornington Peninsula.
After our country-road stroll, we drove to Max’s restaurant for a three course meal of mushroom soup, mushroom tart and mushroom ice-cream (yes it was delicious!).
Max’s mushroom ice-cream.
So now alongside Saffron Milk Caps we’re also harvesting Slippery Jacks—that’s if the bugs haven’t got to them first.
In all, the Saffron Milk Caps have been the most reliably abundant. Our more adventurous visitors have enjoyed a forage with us and left with a big box full, while the not-so-adventurous have declined the offer to forage and warned us to get our affairs in order before we eat them! 😊
We’ve also been sharing the bounty with our neighbours in Clifton Hill and gently bringing our dream of connecting our two hills communities to life.
Nature’s bounty on its way to Clifton Hill.
Neighbour Marion takes the prize for the best use of Saffron’s. She made a pizza with mushrooms, truffle paste and Meredith goat’s cheese. Delish!
The season is nearing its end, so our intention is to dehydrate and grind what we find from now on into a powder so we can enjoy natures gifts all year round.
Of course there are hundreds of inedible mushrooms on the farm too. They’ve been a joy to investigate and photograph. Here’s just a few of the beauties!
The Fly Agaric Mushroom is quite common, most beautiful and reputed to be hallucinogenic.
Not sure what these little guys are growing on a tree branch.
The Crown-Tipped Coral Mushroom (we think). Beautiful to look at but inedible.
Rainbow Fungus (we think).
Little is known about the true diversity of the fungi world and our own education has just begun. Two films that have given us a new appreciation for fungi are The Giants, the extraordinary story of Bob Brown and the forest and Fantastic Fungi, a movie connecting us to nature’s intelligence.
When it comes to the mushrooms of the Mornington Peninsula, this neat guide Fungi of the Peninsula is very helpful.
Ideas are forming on how we might host mushroom foraging excursions for family and friends next winter. For now, our focus is on getting the house ready to move into by 30 June. Stay tuned for an update on that one!
Ric’s Famous Mushroom Risotto
1.5 cups Arborio Rice (washed)
2 cups of chopped mushrooms (use two or three varieties)
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
4 small chicken thighs (deboned and cut into small pieces)
½ brown onion (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper
5 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of parmesan cheese
Cook chicken in olive oil and remove from saucepan. Cook onion and garlic with mushrooms together in same saucepan until soft. Return chicken to pan and add rice. Pour in chicken stock at regular intervals until rice absorbs water and is cooked. Before serving stir in parmesan cheese, a big dob of butter, salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with parsley and parmesan.