With the recent colourful eruption of fungi throughout the Illawarra region, I was lucky enough to score an invitation to a mushroom hunting day through some like-minded bushwalking friends. This invitation was a little different to what I was used to – this was a forage for mushrooms to eat!
An early morning start and a glorious day in Wollongong, I had no idea really what to bring other than a basket and a knife… the adventure started in Belanglo State Forest. Belanglo, unfortunately famous for less than favourable circumstances, is a State Forest with the first radiata pines planted way back in 1919, today the forest covers about 3,500 hectares of plantation pine.
Belango Forest hosts an unlikely camping ground known as Daley’s Clearing where many people are flocking in these glorious Autumn days for a rustic camping trip or a lovely day in the forest.
The first thing that struck me in this place, was an overwhelming sense of heritage…of generations and generations of tradition bought to Australia by a fusion of cultural backgrounds. The smell of gorgeous campfires, the distant chatter of a mix of European and Asian languages and the sound of children squealing at the treasures found. The melting pot of culture was alive and well here where older generations were teaching the younger members the art of foraging and the recipes passed down through the bloodlines. Thankfully, these cultures have been very encouraging of inviting a friend along and sharing the traditions – ‘High Five’ to the Polish organiser of our event!
Let’s talk mushrooms!! So what’s this mushroom foraging all about? Beautiful, meaty, handpicked, organic mushrooms! The forest is so large, so there are plenty of mushrooms for everyone, but you do need to be there at the right time to really take advantage of a good haul. Autumn is peak mushroom picking weather combining cooler temperatures and higher rainfall. Today we were a little late as many of the mushrooms were getting a little old but we still managed to grab enough to feed the crew. Specifically, there are two common species that are picked in this region; the Saffron Milk Cap and the Slippery Jack.
Saffron Milk Cap or Red Pine mushroom or Pine Mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus) not surprisingly has a saffron colour, with distinguishing concentric darker rings, they have a dry appearance and become sticky when wet. The gills underneath are also orange, the stem or stipe is hollow when cut as well as secreting an orange milk. Another characteristic is the deep green bruising when handled. Originally native to the Pyrenees, these mushrooms love acidic soils and enjoy a mycorrhizal relationship (Google it – it’s really interesting!) with the pine trees. Best part – your pee turns orange if you eat heaps! Ha ha!
Slippery Jack or Sticky Bun mushroom (Suillus luteus) native throughout Eurasia and has a symbiotic ectomycorrhizal relationship (again – a google question!) with the pine trees. The underside of the cap has a porous texture of tubes, rather than gills with a yellow colouring. The stipe is pale, the cap is a luscious chestnut brown to darker and it is slimy and glossy.
So essentially, for the amateur, I wouldn’t be going out there picking random mushrooms, in fact I strongly advise against it, as there are many toxic versions out there. It is lovely to join a knowledgeable person and let them show you the tricks of finding the mushrooms, handling them – and more importantly hopefully share a traditional recipe with you! I’ve provided the details above so you can do your own research and be inspired to go exploring – ask your friends, maybe someone’s grandma still goes mushroom foraging!
We had a lovely family day, and topped it off with a traditional Polish cook up, with a few Aussie touches added in – providing a beautiful day out with friends. Thanks to the lovely Natalie for organising this event (and to Erika Semenoff for the additional photos!).
More photos available on our Facebook page.
Please take note of the disclaimer – no rogue mushroom hunting and eating without consulting an expert!