Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pop up mushrooms

My friends Karen Bekker (a caterer who whips up delicacies for private cocktail parties) and mushroom forager Justin Williams met at that Tweede Nuwe Jaar lunch under the tree, although perhaps they had known each other peripherally on Instagram, I can't remember. So when Karen's Interesting Mushrooms popped up again in her pin oak leaf pile, she set up the G and T station in her garden and invited us over. 

Justin leads mushroom walks in Cape Town, and forages for local restaurants. The foraging scene in Cape Town has woken up. Mushrooms were one of the first wild foods I foraged there, sticking to easily identifiable pine rings (known in the States as milk caps  - Lactarius deliciosus) - they were a breeze to find, then, but now you have to wake up really early to beat the pack. Justin is delighted by fungi and along with his fiancée Beverley Klein, has launched a food start up called First Light Foods, producing forage-inspired treats like porcini powder and pickled waterblommetjies. They sell these at the popular and trend-setting OZCF market every week, and at other venues.

Justin and Bev had already met and identified these mushrooms the previous day and were back for the second flush. The edible Agaricus augustus, known as the prince, had eluded the mushroom hunter until now, and he was delighted to make its acquaintance. .

Karen and Justin

Justin vibrates when he talks about mushrooms. And, very kindly, he donated this prize edible to me. This is a big thing. Mushroom people don't let go of their loot easily at all. Very acquisitive. But the man's nature is very generous. He and Bev described its almondy and "sweet" flavor, and after the requisite, "no, I couldn't possibly," and, "yes, but you must," we drank up our delicious Six Dogs gin and parted.

At home the next day, the mushroom's gills had already darkened from blond to pale brown, and I cut the big cap into cubes. I cooked it simply, sauteing the pieces in some avocado oil, without seasoning, then tasted. Mushroom. Then I added a dash of dark soy sauce, which I thought would complement the sweet flavour I had expected.

The result was very interesting. While the thinner pieces of mushroom still tasted like mushrooms (it's amazing how many mushrooms do!), the larger, more succulent chunks were juicily almondy. Quite like marzipan without its actual sweetness.

New year, new mushroom.

What new flavour would you like to experience in 2017?

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