Monday, 29 October 2007
Mushroom Foraging at River Cottage HQ with John Wright
I've become a bit of a mushroom bore recently. Cowie says I am a mushroom nerd. I prefer the expression mushroom enthusiast! And all my friends at work are a bit dubious about my bureoning funghi fetish!
So off Cowie and I trekked down to River Cottage HQ down on the Devon/Dorset border on a glorious Tuesday morning. All the more brilliant for it being a great day off work. We had been looking forward to our day of mushroom foraging with Hugh's mycologist, John Wright for bloody ages.
We were immediately thrilled by the charmingly ecentric chicken obstacle course where Hugh's roosters and hens charge around and play with the mobiles and other crazy bits of kit for the happy birds to play with. It was a sign of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory world we were letting ourselves in for.
We started with a very entertaining briefing by John and Steve in a brilliantly converted barn with a great angled mirror with a plea to us not to eat any bright red mushrooms or break our legs in a rabbit hole! All washed down with a great cup of tea and an organic bacon and egg bap...
Off we pottered with our 24 fellow mushroom hunters to the forrest to start foraging like our lives depended on it. Within 20 seconds I had almost trodden on a tiny little mushroom and yelled over to John, triumphant! Not a great mushroom to start with... but victory nonetheless!
Every time a new mushroom was spotted we all gathered around to see John get really excited and tell us all about the latest find. John seemed to take great glee in telling us stories about some of the more gorey stories about dangerous mushrooms. He is such a great guide with so much energy and knowledge it was a complete privelege to spend a day with him hunting shrooms! He's a legend. Nothing less.
Here's John in action from a while ago when he had long hair!
We spent 3 hours trawling through the forrest finding 37 varieties of mushrooms ranging from the tiny and dull to the huge and delicious like the ceps that Cowie found!
And these slimy chaps that apparently are delicious... although you would have to be a brave man to give them a try! Apparently they are better when they are smaller and tend to grow on the trunks of beech trees.
We all headed back with our baskets heaving with mushrooms to HQ where we were treated to a cooking demonstration of how to cook a fantastic mushroom tart and a chicken stew all washed down with a nice mug of pumpkin soup.
In the meantime John had sorted through all the mushrooms we found and laid them out in the wort for him to identify all the varieties in the hope that we would then know what to avoid and what to pick! We were so overwhelmed by his sheer enthusiasm that we are now always on the look out for mushrooms and will use his excellent book as a guide.
We sat down for a delicious dinner with all the brilliant people we met. Our mushroom tart with a foraged salad was stunning as was our chicken stew which we thought was very worthy of a photo...
As were the fried up ceps that Cowie picked... wow!
We loved the charming personality and energy that everyone and everything at River Cottage HQ exude. The loo was an amazing eco contraption that uses a reed bed to filter all the bad stuff out... and it's made from re-used floor boards.
All this was topped off with a trip to see Hugh's pigs which couldn't stop scratching themselves on whatever they could lay their ample bottoms on.
We'd really built they day up and had huge expectations of it before we arrived and were delighted to have them hugely exceeded. River Cottage HQ over-delivered massively and we can't wait to go back and try another course. Maybe we'll do pig in a day next time. So long as it doesn't involve butchering the pig I made friends with!