Monday, 11 May 2009

Mushrooms in May

tree in Hampstead Heath
Andy Overall
Andy Overall now.

Woodland 'sculptures'.
Woodland 'sculptures'. Rangers have to dismantle these.

Ink caps. You can eat them until they start getting black ink spots on the caps, like these.

St Georges mushrooms
St Georges mushrooms

A dryad mushroom
A dryad mushroom, note pores as in bolets rather than gills.

I had a plan. Go to Hampstead Heath in the morning with fungitobewith Andy Overall, forage mushrooms for that night's dinner. Things didn't quite work out that way.
On Friday I went to the Real Food Festival at Earls Court...tweeted that I was there, got a Direct Message from Guardian foodies Tim Hayward and Susan Smillie to meet them in the bar.
"I'm a big geezer in a cowboy shirt" messaged Tim
"I'm a small large-breasted woman in a pink dress" I replied. 
We had no trouble finding each other. Tim and Suse, like all proper gourmets, like a drink or several. The gossip was fast and furious... posh people in the food world, why all sleb chefs are gay or mad, Elizabeth David, how it helps to be married to a publisher, why Tim detests Agas, pop-up cooking on a boat, why you should have children... Around midnight, we end up outside a pub in Notting Hill, trying to soak up drink by dipping pub chips into the realfood festival freebie pot of mayonnaise.(1) Suse has a massive hessian carrier bag full of free muesli, which gets distributed, in our state of alcoholic joie de vivre, to the bar maid, the taxi driver, anyone who will take it.
The next day, bleary eyed and dehydrated, I haul myself to the heath car park. They've already left. Fortunately I know the heath quite well and manage to find Andy who is looking anxious.

"Conditions are so dry, we aren't finding anything. I hope to find Georges, but I think we picked them all on previous walks"
St. Georges mushrooms only grow once a year in certain places. Once picked, you have to wait till next year. We are also looking for 'dryad saddles' and oyster mushrooms. Dryads are tree nymphs, the name evoking fairy lore and mushrooms as transport. The heath is pungent with wild garlic as we rustle through the woods. Andy Overall is an ex-80s pop star with Blue Zoo who is now a ranger at Kenwood. Talks are taking place about reforming the group to capitalise on the interest in 80s music.

I find only three mushrooms. Not enough to feed 24 people.
The only thing I had prepped was the dessert, the ice-cream. Really behind and on my own, I start to make this weeks main dish: ricotta gnocci from Zuni. It took over three hours to make them, forming each little gnocchi by hand, using the spoon and finger technique. 

forming each little gnocci by hand
homemade gnocchi

Light and tasty, they were a nightmare to cook and plate. Taking mere seconds to poach, the gnocci stuck together in a tiny clump on the plate. I think the ricotta was too wet. I should have left it to drain for a few hours... I dressed the plate with sage garlic butter and griddled asparagus.

The Menu

Kir Royale
Wild mushroom paté on Vogels linseed toasts
Antipasti: griddled aubergines, roasted vine tomatoes, griddled yellow tomatoes, artichoke hearts in oil, capers, hot chevre cheese, champignons de foret in oil, balsamic and pomegranate syrup dressing
Served with green tapenade focaccia
Ricotta gnocci with sage butter and asparagus
Strawberry, clotted cream & champagne ice-cream, pineapple & meringue ice-cream
Coffee or fresh mint tea

roasted vine tomatoes, griddled yellow tomatoes
Brooke Procida came again to do front of house and sing! A particular treat for one girl whose birthday it was. I was delighted because a couple of the guests knew my blogs really well. Very gratifying. One of them, Maria, was on a table of five beautiful Irish girls, a blonde, a couple of brunettes, some redheads. They were referred to as the 'Girls aloud' table.

shoes in the kitchen
Les girls in the kitchen!

(1) Farrington's Mellow Yellow Mayonnaise, made with cold pressed rapeseed oil. Perfect with chips, especially after a few drinks.


  1. Andy looks very handsome, I'm not surprised to hear that he was in a pop band!

    The fungi walk sounds fantastic, I'd love to go some time. The next beginners' workshop isn't until late September now, but oooh, there's one on Halloween - that might be nice!


  2. How did you learn so much about mushrooms? I want to but I'm worried I'll end up poisoning myself!!! :) xxx

    Wanted to go to the Real Food Show this year - was it good? Maybe next year... Oh and planning to come to your place in June now hopefully with a fellow foodie! Be great to meet you! xxx

  3. PS why do the ranger have to dismantle the sculptures?

  4. Canal Explorer and Curious Cat: I've been on two of Andy's walks already. They are absolutely fascinating. I also used to spend time in France mushroom picking so I know what the famous ones look like.
    I'm not exactly sure why the rangers have to do that.Corporation of London rules perhaps. It's a shame isn't it?
    The real food show was ok but I didn't like the space which wasn't intimate enough. Not enough tastings either. Will do a brief report on the English can eat.
    Be nice to meet you yes!

  5. Glad you like our new mayonnaise! I take it you visited us at RFF? Thanks for the mention. Those who like to forage in Waitrose will find it there!


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