mushroom foraging with luisa brimble
All the best chefs do it as a matter of course, chasing the seasons and the food that comes with the changing of the weather. And so Luisa Brimble, the stupendously clever photographer, and chef and mastermind behind Studio Neon, Aaron Teece, and I headed to the Southern Highlands to forage and find what the pine trees and cooling weather would offer. Into the forest we ventured, making tracks in the red earth with our four by four. Pine trees reached into the white overcast sky. Aaron came with the mushroom foraging know-how, Luisa came with her camera, I came for the excursion and the food.
The huge area of State Forests pine plantations makes the perfect environment for exotic mushrooms - prized in in top Sydney restaurants and also in my kitchen. We were here for the Saffron Milk Cap and the Slippery Jacks, which are ready to be picked between late February and early May. But before you go traipsing off into the wilderness armed with a pocket knife, blindly swinging a basket as you skip in search of anything growing out of the earth, grab someone who knows what they're doing, I beg you. To pick the wrong mushroom could, seriously, mean death. But get it right and you have these saffron-coloured funghi, firm with an earthy, creamy aroma, for sautéing and throwing on risotto, steak, in an omelette. Or do what I did and serve with a roast chicken on the day they are picked.
Now I'm a firm believer that words can tell a thousand pictures, that words will tell the story that the image cannot. But when you're out in the woods with a photographer who knows what she's doing, well, the camera is mightier than the pen.
We met a another couple of mushroom experts in the Southern Highlands, who make foraging for these morsels a regular event. They showed me how to slip a knife under the mushroom, slice through the stalk, brush away pine needles with a tiny fresh bouquet of pine needles, and how to lay them upside down in your basket, or in our case the ugly blue bucket. And then we returned home, stopping by some pub in Berrima for a beer. Aaron returned to Studio Neon to make something mushroomy for his tribe. I cryovacked most of mine with extra virgin olive oil and some fresh pine needles for later, and then I sautéed others, thickly sliced, to have with a golden roast chook. It must be autumn after all.