If you had asked me whether there was much decent foraging to be had in the midst of January before last Sunday, I in my ignorance would have probably guessed at not much. I certainly wouldn't have predicted a basket full almost to the brim with edible mushrooms. But that, apparently, is just what you'll get if you know where to look and have a knowledgeable guide to point you in the right direction.
Rob, the boys and I were invited along on a walk lead by our friend Jesper Launder for the Manchester-based Cracking Good Food group who offer courses for passionate foodies as well as working with local community groups. As soon as we arrived at Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury the children frantically started searching under fallen trees and logs, with Jesper and Sam's daughter Leonie leading the pack. Fortunately, the crowd on the walk were very tolerant of being pushed aside by enthusiastic little people looking for wild treasure.
Many logs were inspected and children ran about in no particular direction whilst shouting loudly but eventually, after some crazed thrashing about in boggy terrain, Jesper confidently led us to the gold. The treasure in this case was a log covered in Velvet Shanks, yellowy brown mushrooms with velvety stems. Eager hands plucked excitedly and the basket quickly filled.
We went on to discover mushrooms I had never seen nor heard of before - striking Scarlet Elf Cups, Glistening Inkcaps and the medicinally useful Turkey Tail mushroom. The basket also held a lovely big Oyster mushroom discovered earlier by one of the group. There were herbs too to provide contrasting colour and flavour - three cornered leeks for an allium tang, peppery hot large bittercress, and pretty young cow parsley leaves. It seemed so strange to me that these fungi and herbs should be growing in such abundance in a city park. Largely overlooked by its regular visitors, here was good food and delicate beauty growing in almost complete secrecy.
|Scarlet elf cup|
|A box of Oyster and Wood Blewit mushrooms that Jesper had 'collected earlier'!|
It was a bitterly cold day and as we came to the end of the walk people sensibly hurried into the warmth of a nearby pub to thaw out a little before the finale. The gathered mushrooms were cleaned, chopped and cooked in a pond of butter together with some of the greens. Next to a main road while we stamped the cold out of our feet and blew into our hands, a rather special sort of omelette was created and shared. The portions may have not have been kingly, but it satisfied in every way possible. As fresh, ethical and local as you could wish for, gathered by our own frozen hands; wild and truly wonderful food.