Foraging for fungi

Since the early humans first lifted their dragging knuckles and stood up straight, Neanderthals have been hunting and gathering their food. Nowadays however, the majority of our meat is bought down the local supermarket, as is most of the veg.

This doesn’t stop some from going out into the wilderness of Wales and collecting their own bounty fresh from Mother Nature’s nurturing bosom.

One such man is Daniel Butler who runs his own foraging courses and although he says that the season for most of the best mushrooms is now over, “there is always something out there if you know where to look for it.”

“You should still be able to find meadow waxcaps, blewits, shaggy inkcaps and Jew’s ears,” he continues.

But before you get up off the sofa and head into your local woods to start harvesting wild mushrooms, there are a few things you should know!

First of all you will need to get rid of any fungi phobias. “The overwhelming majority of the world’s thousands of fungal species are harmless,” states Daniel. The chances of you picking and eating a poisonous toadstool or a magic mushroom are extremely slim. Saying that however, he warns that you should not chow down on any mushroom that you aren’t 100% sure of its identity.

Next you will have to ask permission before you go picking ‘shrooms. They are the property of whoever owns the land but as many ignore the value of a wild fungus, many won’t mind you harvesting them.

A quick identification guide

As it’s getting colder, you won’t find many of the best mushrooms such as porcini, chanterelles and parasols, but the winter frost actually stimulates Blewits, Jew’s Ear and Velvet Shanks and so here is a quick guide on how to identify these tasty fungi.

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So now you’ve gone and found some wild mushrooms, you’re going to want to cook those little fun guys (apologies, I had to get it in there somewhere).

“When it comes to cooking them, that’s pretty simple,” says David, “basically, don’t muck around with them too much as you don’t want to mask the spectacular flavours.”

David kindly donated a couple recipes you can try out at home with some of the mushrooms available this time of the year.

Venison and Blewit Casserole

The powerful flavor of a blewit works best with stronger flavors such as venison. All you will need is:

  • 500g diced venison (sub in some stewing steak or mutton if you wanted)
  • 200g of blewits
  • 200g button mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, sliced and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 shredded leak
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • A large glass of red wine (wouldn’t be a Grill and Barrel recipe without some alcohol)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4 bay leaves
  • A bit of flour
  • A little olive oil and of course salt and pepper baby!

Get the meat and roll it in flour that’s been seasoned with the salt and pepper.

In a pan, fry the onion until it’s soft before adding in the carrot, leek, garlic and meat.

Brown the meat then add the blewits, tomatoes, and wine then cook on a low heat in the oven for two to three hours.

Add the button mushrooms 20 minutes before it’s ready as the vegetables and mushrooms will probably of melted into the sauce.

Jew’s Ear Pasta

This simple recipe uses shredded Jew’s Ear as it has quite a tough texture.

For this quick dish all you will need is:

  • 100g of Jew’s Ear
  • 1 garlic clove
  • A handful of fresh basil
  • 1 chili
  • 1 lemon
  • 300g of pasta
  • And obviously olive oil

While the pasta is cooking, shred the mushrooms and chip the chili and garlic.

Fry in a bit of oil for four minutes then add the drained pasta.

Add the juice and zest of the lemon and serve with a garnish of shredded basil.

Have you been foraging? Let us know below or @thegrillbarrel

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