Mushroom Foraging in the High Country of the Central West region of NSW.
Have you ever been curious about how to forage for mushrooms? Robbie Robinson shares his expert knowledge with us at Central West Mums.
Foraging was a “God send” during the lockdown months of the 2020 pandemic. I jump in the car with a few wicker baskets and head to the Canobolas State Forest on the outskirts of Orange NSW; 1000 metres above sea level. Within 20 minutes I am surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of radiata pines, kangaroos, bird life, foxes, occasional wild deer and the magic world of wild mushrooms.
Autumn is the season for picking wild mushrooms
From February to late July my occupation is forager, searching for, and harvesting wild mushrooms for restaurants, cafes, and private clients throughout central western NSW, Sydney and Brisbane. During an average season I would gather 500kgs of wild mushrooms, mainly Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarius Deliciosus), Slippery Jacks (Suillus Granulatus) and Lilac Wood Blewits (Lepista Nuda) all excellent culinary mushrooms with many uses in the kitchen.
These particular mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship to the root system of the pines which also helps distinguish them in the forest. The harvest varies every year, depending mainly on rainfall and soil temperature, one can never guarantee the availability of wild mushrooms. Generally, during the season I forage for 3-4 hours a day, 5-6 days a week depending on my client needs and availability.
Wandering through the forest on a beautiful sunny day gathering mushrooms, is great exercise for the body, mind and soul, I ALWAYS come home feeling better for my time in the forest, foraging is recommended for people of all ages.
I love taking friends into the forest and passing on the skills I have learnt over the past 30 years, foraging in different parts of Australia, the UK, Italy, Ireland and Japan.
As a fresh vegetable the mushrooms are packed into small cardboard boxes (3-4kgs), with layers of green pine needles to buffer them during transport. Chefs are very pedantic when it comes to fresh produce, they want it in the kitchen in the best possible condition after harvest, so all care is taken with the packing and transport. All packed mushrooms travel in refrigerated transport to their destination, this guarantees freshness and visual appeal. Only the best mushrooms are gathered for the restaurant trade, which means picking the best 10% and leaving the remainder for other kitchen processes.
When there are excess mushrooms, I dry them (naturally and dehydrator), blanch and freeze, make chutney, pickle with sea salt and powder them into a sprinkle, there are so many ways to value add to this incredible crop. During this pandemic year, the fresh trade was severely limited, mainly to private clients and local restaurants doing take away meals. Lots of value added products have been produced this year, as it was a “bumper crop”, especially for the saffron milk cap variety.
My favourite wild mushroom is the Lilac Wood Blewit, only found in late autumn and into early winter. They are very rare in this region, I forage about 2-3 dozen each year, they always appear in the same places usually after several frosts or snow. They are a soft lavender colour with a citrus, floral aroma and a nutty earthy flavour, retaining their colour during cooking.
I love them cooked as a separate dish, quickly sautéed in the wok with peanut oil, fresh thyme, and a little garlic. However they are very versatile and can be used in any dish that requires mushrooms. This mushroom must ALWAYS be cooked as it contains a compound that will unsettle the stomach if eaten raw.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THE OLD FORAGERS SAYING: IF IN DOUBT THROW IT OUT
The main mushroom foraging regions in NSW are in the pine forests of the central and southern tablelands. These forests can be easily found at Forestry Corporation. State forests are public lands and allow you to forage for wild mushrooms. In the Oberon district the Tourist Information Centre is very helpful with organising mushroom foraging trips with experienced foragers.
The Oberon Tourist Information centre notes;
‘WE CANNOT EMPHASISE STRONGLY ENOUGH THAT YOU MUST CORRECTLY IDENTIFY YOUR MUSHROOMS. SOME MUSHROOMS ARE POISONOUS AND WILL MAKE YOU EXTREMELY SICK. A LITTLE SAFE GUARD TO FOLLOW IS ‘DON’T PICK ANY MUSHROOM OTHER THAN THE SAFFRON MILKCAP AND SLIPPERY JACK’.
In Orange, The Market Cat conducts mushroom adventures into the local forests during the Autumn months.
Always learn your foraging skills from someone who is experienced, there is also additional information available on the internet, local libraries and bookshops.
Good authors with books about Australian Wild Mushrooms include:
Also this website: www.fungimap.org.au
Maps of forest regions within New South Wales are available for purchase from www.forests.nsw.gov.au The Central West Forest Map ($12) contains information on mushrooming as well as the forests in the Orange, Bathurst, and Oberon areas. Good to have in the car.
Please remember that all wild mushrooms need to be cleaned by either brushing with a small brush and/or wiping with a damp cloth. Slippery Jacks should be peeled off their brown outside skin to reveal a yellow/white flesh. It is best to avoid wet or sodden wild mushrooms, especially of the Slippery Jack variety, which have the capacity to absorb water like a sponge. The Slippery Jacks are also prone to attack from insects or slugs, just cut away these areas and continue.
Foraging for wild mushrooms, requires you to carry a small knife to cut the mushroom stalk, a small brush (a shaving brush is best) to clean away dirt or pine needles from the mushrooms, a basket or two, to carry the mushrooms. Baskets are good because they allow the mushroom spores to fall through onto the forest floor. A rag is also handy for wiping anything from the mushrooms, your hands or knife. Work boots are the best footwear. Remember the forest can also be wet and with rough terrain.
To see more of Robbie’s amazing mushroom foraging check out @themarketcat on Instagram.
Robbie also shares two of his favourite recipes for you to try after your first forage.
Wild Mushroom (Saffron Milk Caps) Chutney
1kg saffron milk caps cleaned and cut into small bite sized pieces
3 medium apples, cored and chopped into pieces
3 medium onions finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
30gm piece of ginger, finely chopped
300ml fresh orange juice
650ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp all spice
2 tsp turmeric
400gm soft brown sugar
Large pinch of ground black pepper
In a large saucepan place the mushrooms, apples, onions, garlic, ginger and raisins with vinegar and orange juice. Bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and down sweat for 5 minutes.
Add the salt, allspice, turmeric and pepper and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Then add the sugar and boil slowly for 2 hours or until thick. Allow to cool then transfer to sterilised jars.
Sterilise your jars by washing used or new jars in hot soapy water, then rinse. Fill with boiling water and stand for 3 minutes. Discard the water. In a tub or bowl, do the same with the lids. They are now ready to fill with chutney. Fix the lids on firmly and keep in a dark, cool place. Once opened store in the fridge and eat within a week.
This chutney has many uses, can be added to soups, slowed cooked dishes, cheese plates or spicy dishes including curries. A wonderful all round condiment.
Pan Fried Wild Mushrooms (a combination of Saffron Milk Caps, Lilac Wood Blewits and/or Slippery Jacks)
Slice wild mushrooms into small pieces, a handful for each person. Cook the mushrooms in olive oil on the stove top with several cloves of sliced garlic. After 5-10 minutes of cooking, stirring with a wooden spoon, add a cup of dry white wine and a mixture of finely chopped fresh herbs like rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano, or any other savoury green herbs. Also add the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt.
Cook until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Eat immediately with fresh crusty bread. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper as desired
Wild mushrooms can be substituted for traditional commercial mushrooms in any recipe. Remember they have a more robust earthy flavour and add more colour, texture and character to any dish when used.
Good foraging 🍄🍄