Friday, May 6, 2016
There is something quite wonderful about foraging for ones food in the countryside, be it simple nettles for a summer soup or wild mushrooms for this winter warmer. Obviously one must be very careful to ensure one knows what one is picking, as the prospect of serving a poisonous broth to ones guests is alarming. When picking mushrooms firstly know the flora of your local area, secondly, take a good field guide with you, and thirdly, if in doubt, don’t pick it of have it checked by a mycologist first.
The best time to forage for mushrooms is the first few days of sun after a wet spell. That is when they tend to have grown the most. Autumn is the perfect time, as it has cooler wetter weather, but still sunny days.
The most common variety around the Waikato region would be the common field mushroom, Agaricus campestris, which is what we found in our fields at Willowbrook, (shown above). They have thick fleshy caps about 5-8cm across, on white stalks 5-8cm tall. As the caps grow the gills change from pale pink in colour to dark chocolate brown. But beware imposters, the 'yellow stainers', Agaricus xanthoderma and Agaricus pilatianus. These mushrooms have relatively large caps up to 15 cm in diameter, with prominent rings on the stalks. The gills are white when young, becoming brownish with age. Consequently, they superficially resemble the common field mushroom (Agaricus campestris), however, both species are poisonous and should not be eaten. Agaricus xanthoderma can be easily distinguished because it stains bright yellow when bruised or cut but Agaricus pilatianus only stains yellow when it is young.
Veloute de champignons sauvages
For this recipe you will require about 200g / 7oz of wild mushrooms of your choosing. If you have some that you have dried from a previous expedition then about 30g of dried mushrooms would suffice, but there’s really nothing quite as good as the fresh thing.
7oz / 200g of wild mushrooms. Morels, ceps, and porcini are best.
2 ½ pints / 6 cups of good homemade chicken stock (a word about bought stock – don’t)
1oz / 30g butter
2 onions coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2lb / 800g of cultivated mushrooms, such as buttons, finely chopped
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 fl oz / 125mls of Madeira or dry sherry
2-3 tbspn of plain flour
4 fl oz / 125mls of crème fraiche or soured cream
Freshly ground pepper and pink Himalayan rock salt
Fresh thyme or chives for garnish
If using dried mushrooms rinse them well in a sieve under cold running water to remove any sand or grit. Place them in a pan with 8 fl oz / 250mls of water and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling take the pan off the heat and set it aside for 45 minutes to reconstitute and cool.
Meanwhile, in a good quality saucepan (heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish) melt the butter over a medium heat and then gently sautee the onions until golden. Add the garlic and the button mushrooms as well as any freshly foraged mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Then add the rest of the seasoning and sift over the flour. Cook for about another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened and the flour has been well cooked.
Add the Madeira or sherry, the chicken stock , and if using dried mushrooms these as well as the water they were soaked in. Simmer with lid on for further 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are deliciously tender.
The soup is now ready to be pureed. Put soup through blender until smooth. Return to the pan and stir through the crème fraiche or soured cream and bring back to near boiling (but do not let boil).
Ladle into bowls, swirl a small amount of crème fraiche through the centre of each bowl for decoration, then sprinkle over the fresh herbs to garnish and serve.
Disclaimer: We strongly advise all readers to take full precaution in ensuring correct identification of any wild foraged food before consuming it. The following resources may aid NZ readers in this. All overseas readers are advised to consult with their local specialists first.
Landcare Research provides a virtual mycology library for NZ species, with field mushrooms to be found here.
More examples of Waikato / Taranaki species can be found here.
Alternatively, you could always grow your own to be sure with kits from Mushroom Gourmet NZ.