Foragers’ Corner

231

Well, if ever there was compensation for the less than wonderful summer weather, it’s that the mushrooms are out!

If, like me, you live in an oak or beech wood, you probably know all about foraging for mushrooms. For the uninitiated, here are some guidance notes, and top tips.

In my part of the Languedoc, the Hérault, there are generally 2 seasons for mushrooms – June and October. I’ve rarely known mushrooms in August, but today I spent two lovely hours collecting a basketful of girolles.

Girolles, also known as chanterelles, have a lovely delicate flavour, and are delicious with eggs. A girolle omelette is a simple but heavenly thing.

If you’ve never been mushrooming, here are some top tips for you.

Here’s what you’ll need:-

– A basket – preferably one that you can put over your arm easily, leaving your hands free.

– A knife. I use an Opinel with a curved blade to get round some of the thicker ceps stems, and it has a brush on the end for cleaning the mushrooms.

– If you don’t have a brush on the end of your knife, take a 1 or 2 cm paintbrush with you.

– A walking stick is a good idea, as mushrooms are often hiding under leaves or bracken, and it saves you bending down all the time.

– Some patience!

I find that the girolles are often growing in mossy patches under beech or oak trees. They seem to like that light, spongy, slightly cool bright green moss. It’s a delight when you see the bright orange of the mushroom against the green moss.

Girolles are light yellow through to quite bright orange / peach. The cap is either convex or vase shaped. The stem is smooth, not hollow, and is the same colour as the cap. When you pick them, there is a definite apricot smell. Sometimes it takes around 5 minutes for the smell to develop.

Girolles have quite delicate caps, so when you see one, support the cap with one hand, and cut through the stem with the knife.

Resist the temptation to drop it straight into your basket, but clean it off first by brushing it gently. Generally when you pick them, the caps and gills are quite clean, but the fine gills soon get clogged up with mud if you don’t clean the stems first. It takes a lot longer to clean them at the end, if you don’t do it as you go along. Trust me, you’ll be glad of that extra time spent per mushroom as you’re picking them, rather than cleaning them later!

If you’re not sure what your mushroom is, please be very careful. There are some poisonous mushrooms in the area, and you must never eat a mushroom unless you are confident that it is safe. So if you’re not absolutely sure, don’t take the risk, get it checked out, or simply leave it in the ground.

The chemists in the area are all trained to recognise mushrooms, so take them down to your local chemist and they will tell you if they are safe or not. They do this free of charge.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to find some girolles, just take as many as you need. Either leave some for others, or you can come back the following day for more. Unlike the ceps, the girolles seem to keep for a long time in the ground, and don’t generally get attacked by slugs. I have some hidden places for my girolles, and I treat it like a larder in season, picking a few at a time.

My favourite way of cooking girolles is to simply fry them up with some olive oil, and a little garlic, and then mix in a tiny little bit cream or crème fraiche at the end. It’s delicious on toast for breakfast, or with pasta and cantal cheese for lunch or dinner.

Happy foraging!