Fungi foraging course

Bay Tree Cottage logo

If, like me, you don't feel confident about fungi foraging you might like to try a foraging course. I have only done one course, but it was an excellent choice. It was run by Bay Tree Cottage Country Living Courses, based in the pretty village of Farthingstone in Northamptonshire.

Northamptonshire is, in my view, an underrated county with attractive countryside, delightful villages and some excellent pubs. If you would like to extend your stay there are many attractive bed and breakfast options, including staying at Bay Tree Cottage.

Bay Tree Cottage

With a bright airy kitchen, stone floors, an Aga and a giant dining table it feels very homely (homey), like a proper farmhouse kitchen. In fact it is the home of Jenny Dicks, who is a farmer's daughter, and has a passion for cooking and the countryside.

On foraging courses, Jenny is the host and keeps participants fed and watered with her own excellent home-cooked food (refreshments including lunch are included in the price of the course). Her chocolate coated apricot energy bars are absolutely scrummy!

Geoff Dann

Their foraging course normally starts at 9.30 and finishes at 2.30. Tuition is provided on the course by Geoff Dann. (He is shown holding a herb called Fat Hen, which he recommends frying with tomatoes, butter and nutmeg.)

Geoff is passionate and knowledgeable about fungi and all wild foods. Such is his love of the countryside and being outdoors that I have this image of him living in a tree house, I feel sure he would be too restless trapped inside an ordinary house.

Geoff explains things clearly and honestly without any pretence. He has a strong sense of humour and a loud laugh, accompanied by an easy-going manner. Being a tutor in foraging is clearly the right vocation for him.

So what will you find?

Clustered-toughshank-0453

Foraging takes place in several fields and woods near Bay Tree Cottage. Of course there is no guarantee about what you will find, so Geoff brings a selection of wild fungi with him and uses these to introduce the foraging session.

On the day I did the course, our first 'edible' discovery in the woods was some clustered toughshanks (shown above). Geoff explained that these grow on rotten wood and that they are safe to eat, but they are tasteless and not really worth bothering with at all. I like Geoff's no-nonsense honesty.

The excitement of a Fairy Ring

Fairy-ring-0490

As we left the woods Geoff suddenly became very excited. "Look", he shouted, "A Fairy Ring!". Now it is true that his optimistically large wicker basket was not exactly weighing him down and he felt guilty about relatively few discoveries, so his excitement was probably also an expression of relief. Nonetheless, it is always good to be tutored by someone with Geoff's passion and commitment.

Geoff then faced a dilemma: he could see another fairy ring over the wall in someone's garden. We all knew that he really wanted to creep in and help himself to their mushrooms. His conscience got the better of him and so he resisted any scrumping - eventually.

Alongside the passion are clear explanations. For instance, Geoff explains carefully how to distinquish true Fairy Ring Champignon from Fool's Funnel, which grows in a similar way but is quite poisonous.

Blomkålsvamp med ostsås

Jenny makes us cauliflower fungus with cheese sauce using a magnificent Cauliflower Fungus provided by Geoff. Cauliflower Fungus is rare but if you ever see one it is unmistakable and quite safe to pick as there is nothing else remotely similar. It grows at the bottom of pine trees and is usually about 30 cm across, but occasionally much larger.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F, gas 6, fan 180°C).

2. Take the Cauliflower Fungus and break it into florets, just as you would do with an ordinary cauliflower. Rinse it thoroughly, pick out any pine needles or creepy crawlies, give it a few whizzes in a salad spinner and then leave it to drain.

Cheese sauce ingredients

50 g (½ stick) butter
40 g (5 tbsp) plain (all-purpose) flour
480 ml (2 cups) milk 
50 g (½ cup) grated cheese such as Västebottensost or Parmesan
    salt and freshly ground black pepper

3. Meanwhile, make a cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan and then stir in the flour. Gradually stir in the milk, a little at a time, then whisk over a medium heat till thickened. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Add some cream if you want a richer sauce.)

4. Add the drained Cauliflower Fungus to a well-buttered shallow baking dish. Season and then pour the sauce over. Scatter some more grated cheese over the top.

5. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve with a nice salad and some light rye bread.

Karljohansvamp och Brunsopp

Mixed-mush-0502

Geoff's final treat for us was some delicious Bay Bolete (shown at the front left) and, the king of wild mushrooms, some Penny Buns. (Penny Bun are know as Karljohansvamp in Sweden, Cep in France, Porcini in Italy and Steinpilzen in Germany.) Both were simply fried in butter with a little salt and some pepper. Wonderful.

Conclusion

Forgaing for mushrooms is not easy as there are so many poisonous mushrooms around, but this course provided a good introduction. Even if you don't end up foraging it will be a worthwhile experience.

More about foraging

Read Anna Bonde-Mosesson's article about foraging.

John Duxbury

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