Autumn in Jamieson is typified by several days of warm sunny days and cold nights, followed by a few days of rain and drizzle before fining up again, the perfect conditions for…mushrooming, and the Jamieson fungi foragers are out stealing about the valley hunting down the delicious field mushroom Agaricus campestris, which appear in clumps or rings in fields that have been spared the indignity of a dose of super phosphate. The locations are a closely guarded secret, peculiar really given there are plenty to go around, but such is the cult of the mushroom. The foragers’ enthusiasm for the hunt invariably means there is a constant stream of generous guests arriving at the back door with supermarket bags of mushrooms on offer, which are never refused. There are few more delightful meals on a sunny autumn day than mushrooms on toast. The vodka-clear southern white light blasts through the chilly air, the sun that is daily retreating further north caresses you with it’s dying warmth, and in front of you a delicious plate of stewed mushrooms on a fresh slab of toasted home baked sourdough. I love autumn.
With fresh picked field mushrooms I simply sauté them for five to ten minutes in French butter with a little garlic until they are glossy black but still retain their structure and serve sprinkled with salt, cracked pepper and fresh chopped parsley. At this time of year my parsley is at the end of its season and is developing a more bitter and stronger flavour, which I personally like. Now that the wood stove is going in the kitchen, I often put the mushrooms in an enamel lined cast iron pot and leave them gently pot roasting all day, stirring occasionally (when I happen to pass by the kitchen) until they are a thick black oily glump. The flavour becomes seriously intense, redolent of a delightful mushroom pate I once ate at Libertine, the French hole in the wall in North Melbourne.
One of my all time favourite recipes for mushrooms is to pot roast them with vine leaves and goats cheese. The only problem with this is that by the time field mushrooms come into season, the last of the vine leaves are withering, but if you look carefully there are still a few tender green leaves about. My vines did not do so well this year. Because I eat them I resist spraying them with copper and sulphur., and as it was a wet summer my vines copped a bit of mildew. Next year I might try spraying with bicarb and milk and see how that works.
As an aside I have often wondered how the organic wine industry can use sulphur and still claim to be organic? And for that matter, isn’t all life organic. My friend Fred Pizzini, a winemaker in the King Valley resists netting his vines. When I once asked him how he deals with bird strike, he simply said, “The birds need to eat too. They only get around 25% of the crop which leaves plenty for me”. Fred is a delightful man, and his wife Katrina is a fabulous cook and food author. The Pizzinis are pioneers of growing Italian varieties in Australia, like Arneis, Verduzzo, Brachetto, Coronamento Nebbiolo, Rosetta, Sangiovese, Sangiovese Shiraz and Nebbiolo. If you are ever in the King Valley, drop in and pay them a visit, or take a cooking class with Katrina. Whatever you do, make sure you try their Il Barone 2006, a stunning blend of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet and Shiraz. It is fermented with the aid of an Italian yeast from Barolo. This is a classy wine, rich and full flavoured, complex tannins, hints of leather, berries, with a delightful tar finish. But I digress, the topic was mushrooms!
It is not only the field mushrooms that find their way onto our plates. Under the pine forests around town are heaps of the orange and blue Saffron Milkcaps, and if you know where to look there are also the delightful Slippery Jacks, but more on them in a post to follow shortly.
The season should last for another two or three weeks, which is probably a good thing, for if it went on much longer I might run the risk of getting sick of them. Heaven forbid!