Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Poacher

Drying Cluster Domecap mushrooms by thinly slicing and air-drying
Jon the Poacher's basket of mushroom wonders with Field Blewits, Oyster mushrooms and Cluster Domecaps

When I was a child there were three majestic apple trees in our back garden, which never failed to produce an incredibly Autumn bounty, year on year. Those gluts would allow (or should I say force?) us to make enough pies, crumbles and streudels to keep us going for pretty much the whole winter. But always with some saved for our daily lunchboxes, perhaps one of the smaller, woodier Blenheim Orange variety that I still dream about but can never find.

Since those heady days of excess I've not had much luck with foraging, though I love the idea of being able to live away from the supermarkets. Like every frustrated city dweller with an itch that can't be scratched, I've read Richard Mabey's Food For Free and dabbled with other fungi guides, but never been brave or foolish enough to take the plunge and eat what I pick. But that all changed last weekend when I went out with my friend Andy, who'd been promising to show me the foragable goodies in London's Hackney area for quite some time.

We lucked out with the weather - only briefly rainy, giving way to clear skies and a crisp, fresh day. The first mushrooms Andy pointed out were like magic - small, lavender-stemmed Field Blewits. Very good to eat if cooked, and prolific in this particular field. Once I'd seen one it was like a veil had lifted and I started to spot them everywhere!

I was just learning how to cut, clean and store the blewits when a man approached us carrying an incredible wicker basket of mushrooms (I fineagled the photo above). It turned out that our mysterious stranger lived locally and picked mushrooms to sell to the restaurant trade. And for some reason, was happy to walk us through some of the places he knew that were good for mushrooms. Amazing! We spent a fascinating couple of hours with Jon the Poacher as he walked us through some of his favourite places. Every time we found a new species, or a monster big one (I am, of course, impressed by size) I couldn't help but giggle like a small child. So much fun.

We ended up with more than a kilo of mixed wild mushrooms to play with. After some fantastic garlic mushrooms on toast, the rest were thrown into this soup, which I think is hard to improve.


Serves 4 as a starter

650g wild mushrooms (Field Blewits if you can get them)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 fat clove of garlic, finely sliced
850ml light vegetable stock
a handful of chives (7g)
a handful of parsley (7g)
olive oil
a splash of single (light) cream

1) Cut the mushrooms into 5mm slices and add a tablespoon of oil to a large non-stick frying pan and put this onto a medium heat. Fry the mushrooms in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan and adding more oil as needed, then set the mushrooms aside.

2) In a large saucepan, fry the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil for ten minutes until translucent and soft, then add the garlic. Continue to fry until lightly browned, then add the mushrooms and stock. Bring up to a simmer then remove from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes before blending until smooth. Add the fresh herbs and blend again until the herbs are finely chopped through the soup. Add a splash of cream to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons), and serve with a hunk of crusty bread and butter.


  1. What an amazing story. I hope you continue to take advantage of this wild bounty! Mushroom foraging is something I've always wanted to do. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Hi Gwen, I certainly intend to go back again, it was a very relaxing day :)

    Do you have any shrooming spots where you are?

  3. I've seen them in the new forest

    there were a lot of reports about people falling ill with poisonous types at one point which put me off trying. Well done for finding some safe ones!


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