For most Aussies, late February marks the end of sunny summer days and the onset of gloomy cold days. But for fungi fanatics, late Feb to late May signals the best period of the year – mushroom foraging season!
As soon as word spread of top notch conditions for mushroom picking (brought on by rainy weather), the YFM Melbourne crew headed to Mount Macedon one April weekend, just for funsies (and funghi). Armed with a pen knife, wicker baskets and coffees to combat the 6am wakeup, we headed to the gorgeous Mount Macedon with our friends from Kinfolk Cafe.
Led by two mushroom experts (Jarrod Briffa of Kinfolk and Paul Romeros of Day’s Walk Farm), the team foraged the forest floors of Woodend for Saffron Milk Caps (also aptly named Lactarius Deliciosus for its saffron-coloured milk) and Slippery Jacks (called Suillus Luteus).
Jarrod and Paul explained how to identify two common edible mushies. Saffron Milk Caps are a bright orange colour, with darkening rings, red-pink underside gills and a hollow stem. Slippery Jacks are characterised by brown slimy tops and yellow spongy gills.
They spent the day sharing their extensive experience and knowledge of the magical world of wild mushrooms, but here’s what blew our minds the most.
- Mushies mostly grow in structures on the forest floor called mycelium – the familiar mushie structure growing above is actually just the reproductive fruit that functions to disperse spores. Mushrooms work in a symbiotic nature with the rest of the forest and especially with trees, including nutrient exchange and pollution protection. #teamwork
- Mushroom foraging can be pretty darn sustainable. Wild mushies are mostly foraged by hand with time and effort, and rarely cultivated on a large scale. Forests like Mount Macedon are so abundant with mushies in the season that there is little chance of over-foraging – as long as foragers only pick what they need. Moreover, good mushie picking only harvests the stem and “leaf” material from the forest, with little disturbance to the forest environment. Foragers are encouraged to leave the base of the mushroom when cutting it, to allow the mushie to regrow for next season and for the least disturbance to the forest mycelium.
- Saffron milk caps for lunch = red pee! If you’ve gobbled enough saffron milk caps, you’ll notice your pee turn cherry red a few hours later – eek! But not to worry, the discolouration is entirely harmless, meaning you can continue feeding all your friends buttery rosemary saffron milk caps (but remember to let them know so they don’t freak out!).
There are heaps of deadly and inedible varieties of mushrooms and fungi out there, many which look very similar to edible species. Never forage for wild mushrooms without guidance under an experienced mushroom expert and always follow the motto – ‘when in doubt, leave it out’.
Image and video by Jasmine Chan. Video Track: As Luck Would Have It by Tom Rosenthal