Foraging for pine mushrooms
Last weekend, I joined the wonderful Diego Bonetto of Wild Stories and several other mushroom hunters for a beautiful journey into the pine forests of New South Wales. As well as enjoying delightful scenes of the countryside rush past lit in golden sunrise light, everyone went home with bulging bags of foodie treasure, with plenty left for anyone who followed in our footsteps. At $40 a kilo, I was pretty keen to learn the art of pine mushroom stalking and squishing them tightly into my backpack.
As much as it’s tempting to sound far more knowledgeable than I actually am, I don’t want to give much away, because you really do benefit from going with an experienced mushroomer. It’s not only safer, but far more relaxing and enjoyable than trying to nut it out on your own based on a blog post! If you happen to be in the Sydney area, Wild Stories is running one last outing on April 20th at the end of the season after the last two sold out. It’s all very safe – there were even signs and brochures erected at both the locations we went to, declaring the treasures to be found amongst the trees.
Off we went, feeling very hunter-gathery but also politely not elbowing anyone out of the way when we spotted one – not that we had to, especially at the second place we went to! When I spotted my first mushroom I felt like I had struck gold – literally. The rich “saffron milk” that gives pine mushrooms its distinct golden colour is delightfully vibrant.
My favourite are still the small day-old babies, which aren’t as delicate as their older three-to-four-day cousins so they last longer and don’t get smooshed so much when you try to clean them. Texture wise they’re also more like button mushrooms as opposed to their larger counterparts – tighter and firmer. That said, the larger ones are nothing like the large mushrooms in texture once cooked – the skin is much more discernible when you bite into them.
Diego also gave us some important identification lessons, in a valiant attempt to ensure we all survived our mushroom feasts. Given that the same type of mushroom can vary in appearance due to the less controllable conditions in the forest and the various bits and pieces on the forest floor that bend the mushrooms into different shapes, it was important to know multiple characteristics to look out for. He also imparted some invaluable wisdom about the context of picking them, such as the effect of the weather and type of forest.
Here were some of our rejects that we collected and were unsure of, mixed in with a few edibles too. Just like recycling, if in doubt, leave it out!
To end our morning, we were treated to the fruits of our forage, with garlic, salt and olive oil, finished with a bit of parsley. My jeans still smell smokey from slicing mushrooms by the fire and it makes me drool a little every time I catch a whiff. The mushrooms themselves pack some gorgeous umami and earthy woodiness, with the slightest bitterness to offset their richness. They were not slimy at all, but nice and toothsome without being leathery.
When I got home with my greedy backpack full of mushrooms, I got lazy and cleaned them with water (you’re meant to just brush them clean), but the skins were a lot less absorbent than regular mushrooms, so the water just kind of slid off. Still, they didn’t turn out soggy at all – a bit of a miracle really. A little kiss of butter made them even more sublime. My freezer is now heartily bursting with boxes of precooked sliced mushrooms, waiting to be used in a killer risotto or creamy pasta. I think these would work best in something with a decent amount of moisture, as their intensity and firm, non-slimy texture would lift a silky sauce and help flavour a silky sauce or soup nicely.
So far I’ve enjoyed them with goats cheese over polenta chips (waaaay too rich), and in a grilled cheese with basil oil (yeah, I didn’t learn my lesson…).