by The Curious Scribbler
My blogging regularity has diminished recently, so what is my excuse? Well part of it is the pleasure of foraging to fill the freezer.
Real wild field mushrooms have suddenly burst forth in our field. They are the most unpredictable of crops. In 2011 we picked half a carrier bag-full every few days for several months starting in late May. By contrast last year’s rainy and vile summer yielded not a single one. And throughout the baking hot days of June and July this year, the hay crop grew up, was harvested, and the new grass began springing from the roots. There was not a mushroom to be seen.
And then this week, after several refreshing bouts of rain the mushrooms are emerging, gleaming white chains of domes pushing up through the grass and herbs. They form distinct colonies, reflecting the spread of the mycelium below the ground, and in many cases the colonies have spread out into partial ‘fairy rings’: large arcs of emerging mushrooms in grass which is growing slightly richer and greener than the rest. Walking across the rising ground one can pick out these darker green strands of meadow, and on closer approach, find the mushrooms sheltering within them.
When we bought our field some twenty years ago it grew a deep hay meadow of coarse grasses, cocksfoot and timothy which one waded through with difficulty before the cut. The farmer in those days would apply chemical fertilizer each year to promote the hay, and graze the field with winter sheep. There were few wild flowers and no mushrooms.
Under our management there is no chemical fertilizer, just a traditional sprinkle of farmyard manure after the sheep and lambs have grazed it bare in spring. And over the years the tall grasses have disappeared, and a species-rich meadow has re-established itself. The hay crop looks pretty substantial when rolled up in big bales, but even at harvesting the vegetation is now little more than ankle deep, low enough that a strolling free range chicken can look out over the grass heads on alert for the fox. It is a richly flowery mix with vetches, daisies, clover, plantain and other herbs. A gourmet diet for sheep, which, as is well known, much prefer a mixed and varied forage.
Most of the mushrooms, I trim and wipe free of grass and gently bag them up for the freezer. A frozen mushroom obviously loses its firm texture for mushrooms on toast, but so does a mushroom which has been slowly stewed. All through the winter I add frozen field mushrooms to richly winey coq au vin or boeuf bourguinon, layer them in meat pies or add them to soup. The commercial mushroom is a pale tasteless echo of the real thing. These mushrooms pack a punch of flavour.