I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a fungus forager but never quite had the guts to risk eating something a professional hasn’t verified as edible. I still highly recommend foraging as a relaxing pastime and an important and fun way for city dwellers to get back to nature.
In recent years with the increase in amateur foragers – inspired by celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – and the increased demand for wild mushrooms in restaurants, some sites have made it illegal to pick them. Epping Forest, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, will press charges if you are caught mushrooming. However don’t let this put you off. It’s still legal to pick wild mushrooms from common land and from private property if you have the owner’s permission.
Definite identification of safe varieties is essential. If you don’t have that expert knowledge, help is at hand from the likes of Forage London, Vale House Kitchen and Forage Wild Food, which all run courses and foraging walks.
If you’d like to buy wild mushrooms you can find them at specialists like Turnips Greengrocers in Borough Market, but make sure you ask for ones grown in England.
I like to serve just one or two mushroom varieties together so that the eater has an understanding of the original ingredients and can identify the flavour of each. One of my favourite mushroom recipes I ever wrote was discovered by accident. I had a bag of dried morels that needed using and John Wright, River Cottage forager and mushroom expert, turned up with a big bag of parasols.
Parasol potage with morel cream - serves 4
Finely dice an onion and sauté in a thick-based pan on a medium heat for 5 minutes with 40g of butter. Meanwhile cut 800g of parasol to about a 1-2cm dice. Add them to the pan. Pick sprigs of thyme and add that too. Sauté for another 5 minutes slowly over a low heat with the lid on, adding more butter if the pan becomes dry. Roughly chop 4 cloves of garlic and add, cook for a further 2 minutes. Add 1 litre of water or veg stock and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning, adding plenty of black pepper. If the soup is too thin, continue to simmer with the lid off until it reaches the desired consistency.
To make this dish out of this world; simmer 75g of fresh morels (or 25g of dried morels that have been rehydrated in warm water then drained) in 75g of cream for 10 minutes over a low heat, then blend to a purée.
Serve bowls of the potage with a touch more pepper and swirls of morel cream on top.
This feature first appeared in The Jellied Eel magazine issue 48, August 2015