Mushroom Foraging With Carluccio's
On a rainy week in October, I received a message from restaurant chain Carluccio’s, inviting me to attend their upcoming foraging event with Forest Foragers. Guests would be taught about mushrooms grown in the UK, including how to find them, identify them, pick them, and cook them. I was so excited to go that I cancelled my existing plans with my family (sorry mum!) and headed to Hainault Forest in Essex - husband, toddler, and dog in tow. We had such a wonderful time!
The event was put together by Carluccio’s team - Antonio Carluccio was an Italian chef and TV personality who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk, and had a real passion for mushrooms. He died in 2017, a sad day for the culinary world, but left a legacy of restaurants behind him, and a crew of hundreds of people. One of his specialities was cooking with freshly-foraged food - whether freshly-picked fruit, dried nuts from late Autumn, or late-summer mushrooms, Antonio loved cooking with self-sufficiency.
As you might know from our Urban Garden Series, my husband and I try our best to grow, cook, and eat as much as we can from our small back garden; however, mushrooms and mushroom-identification has always been something we’ve given a wide berth to, purely because you hear stories of how toxic some of the mushrooms can be!
Luckily we had a crack team in Hainault, led by Clifford Davy and Peter Sibley, who between them have several decades years of experience, more degrees than you could shake a stick at, and have literally written the book on mushrooms and wild foraging in the UK.
We started the day learning in a classroom about the different types of mushrooms: what to look for, what to pick, and what to avoid. We were lightly tested on these sections at the end of the classroom segment - as you can imagine, it’s quite important we understand what’s edible and what’s not. From what I understand, however, everything in the UK is ‘touchable’ - so touching mushrooms won’t get you in trouble in this country; it’s just the ingesting that can potentially end up going wrong!
We learned about mushroom rings, which can be found in the woods and meadows (see image below), as well as how to pick a mushroom - from the very base, almost underneath the soil, so that identification can be made easier. We found out about the huge networks that fungi create across the landscape, called mycelium. While running only 10 or so inches deep under the topsoil, these networks, called rhizome, can spread from city to city in some countries. Mushrooms are the fruit of the mycelium - much like when you pick an apple it doesn’t mean that you kill the tree; eventually, another one will grow. We learned so much!
We then had a break and were treated to delicious vegan Greek casserole, focaccia bread with olives, and a welcoming basil and tomato soup - there’s nothing like having warm and hearty food when it’s cold and wet outside, and the Forest Foragers team did an amazing job of catering for vegan dietary requirements.
After this, the group headed to the nearby woods. The damp, earthy smell was a clear sign of all the heavy rain we’d received that week, which is ideal for mushrooms. When it’s too dry, the mushrooms don’t fare too well, so we were told that we should be in for a treat. During our 90-minute walk in the woods, we found several large baskets of mushrooms. It was such a lovely experience to let Zara run around sticking her little hands through piles of fluffy wet mushrooms, knowing that touching them wasn’t going to hurt her!
We found a nice range of mushrooms, but the most abundant was the puff-ball and the parasol mushroom - we were told that these are quite pleasant-tasting mushrooms. I also learned that many of the small mushrooms you see in woods are edible, but don’t taste of much, so foragers leave them in favour of the premium mushrooms - in our case the Trooping Funnel mushroom. We only found a few, but were told by Clifford that these are “5 star mushrooms”!
Needless to say, our bags were packed with mushrooms by the time we made it back to the classroom. We finished the day with an identification session and a cooking demonstration, where we learned even more about mushrooms.
Would I do it again? 100%.
Both Peppe and I had such a wonderful time, and it was something very different to anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve been on courses before, but not like this - it combined our love for the outdoors, our love for learning, my love for mushrooms (funnily enough, Peppe actually doesn’t like them!) and, most importantly, doing something together as a family.
Thank you Clifford and Peter from Forest Foragers and to the Carluccio’s team for inviting us, putting on such a lovely event, and for letting our family invade a classroom in Hainault on a wet weekend!
Thanks for reading, and let me know if you take part in any Carluccio’s workshops or Forest Foragers’ classes!