Wild mushroom forage – Newlands forest


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In light of the recent (and somewhat strangely) cool & rainy weather we’d had in Cape Town, I thought I might call upon the services of Mushroom Hunter Gary Goldman – a guru of all things fungi and a man whose keen sense & sharp eye would spot an out-of-season porcini at 50 paces.

Naturally, The Co-Pilot was totally in on this little adventure, and we met Gary and an equally fungi-mad acquaintance of his in the car park of Newlands Forest early one morning. We started off up one of the main trails, and then veered off-course into the thick of the forest, where only the most serious of foragers dare to venture.

Gary, a former IT man, is completely self-taught when it comes to mushrooms. Armed with a number of mushroom encyclopedias, a pocket knife and a basket, he would forage Newlands, Tokai & Celia forests, studying & identifying each species he came across. It seems to me that the public study of mushrooms in this country is a fairly elusive one. No-one seems to admit to being an ‘expert’, or knowing anything more than the basics when questioned, as if an underground Mushroom Order existed!  To find like-minded people at the time, Gary posted a fairly cryptic message in a local bulletin, to which only one person responded. That person – we’ll call her Mary – happened to be foraging with us this very morning! Super mysterious, non?

The actual foraging process was quite stressful for The Co-Pilot and I. Gary & Mary moved very quickly over the areas they were foraging, knowing exactly what they were looking for. Our instruction was to look for ‘bumps’ in pine needle thickets… When you’re in a forest and there are ‘bumps’ everywhere, it takes time to study each one & we found ourselves lagging behind, petrified that we might miss something important. Mary was extraordinarily lucky skilled, and found three nice sized porcinis in the first thirty minutes.

As we moved up the mountain, we spread out to cover a larger area. In a few short minutes, the rest of the group was completely out of sight; all I heard was the sound of my own breath, the crunch of pine needles underfoot & the birds, keeping me company. I searched next to fallen trees, I searched at the base of trees, I searched near rocks… There were a number of other species of mushrooms, which Gary had identified earlier as edible, but no signs of the elusive porcini. Until… wait! There! A little ‘bump’! Could it be? I crouched down on my hands and knees and gently cleared away the brush around the mushroom, being careful not to touch or remove it before I was able to confidently identify it. Gary and the rest of my foraging buddies were nowhere to be seen, so I continued peering intently at my prize. After a moment, I was certain it was a porcini, and thus proceeded to do a little victory dance in the forest. I had foraged my very first porcini!! Much excitement! I gently grabbed the base of the mushroom, and twisted the root gently, as Gary has said. It loosened easily from the earth, and I carefully pushed down the pine needles & the earth to close the hole. Mushrooms multiply via spores, so with some care and good weather conditions, that little spot would yield another gorgeous porcini, perhaps for another lucky forager to enjoy.

I bounded across the forest to show The Co-Pilot, who graciously put on an air of excitement for me but who was secretly cursing inside, as he’d not been as lucky. Our walk took us through a large section of the forest, and we met other people along the way who were also just ‘taking the dogs for a walk’. Foraging for mushrooms in Newlands forest is not actually allowed, only in Tokai and Celia forests, so when you come across other people off the trails, it’s with a knowing smile that you greet them & move off again.

A few pointers if you’re going to forage for mushrooms yourselves: Don’t pick anything that you cannot positively identify. Place your ‘shrooms in a well ventilated container once picked, never in a plastic bag as they’ll start to sweat. It’s best to go hunting early in the morning – there’s more chance of you finding a good collection at this time, and your find will be fresh after the cool of the night. Technically, mushroom season is between March and May when the temperature drops between 12-22 degrees celcius, the atmosphere is humid & there has been some rain. Our forage was a bit cheeky, and Gary wasn’t entirely hopeful at a good yield, but we weren’t embarrassed at all about our find.

Once home, we brushed the dirt carefully off each mushroom – never wash them. We then sliced the porcini into thick pieces & seared them in a very hot pan with a little drizzle of olive oil & fresh lemon juice. We ate this with scrambled egg for breakfast – if I try to explain all the shades of nomness to you, I could very well be here all day. Suffice to say that there is nothing like eating a freshly picked porcini mushroom. We made a sort of mushroom stroganoff later with the other mushrooms – first by gently sautéing onions & garlic until very soft, adding some fresh thyme & lemon zest. We then poured in a tub of fresh cream, and let that reduce down until it was nice and thick. We then sautéed each species of mushroom separately (and tasted each of them) and added those to the stroganoff sauce & let them simmer together for a few minutes to impart their flavor. We enjoyed this on freshly toasted ciabatta bread, which was super tasty!

If you’d like to go on a similar adventure or if you’d just like to learn more about mushrooms in South Africa, give Gary Goldman a call on 021 686 7188 or email him on gary.goldman@cybersmart.co.za

Gary runs The Mushroom Factory, and supplies wild mushrooms to local restaurants & cafes. You will also find his mushrooms at the Biscuit Mill, being sold by the lovely folk mentioned here.

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