“Is there rain and gale force winds on your side?”
“Okay, then we’ll meet you at the forest gate at 7:15”
In Cape Town, winter brings sloshy puddles and leaf layers on the forest floor. Mushrooms, like stars fallen from the galaxy, pop out of the ground in diverse shapes, forms, colours and size. This time from the first rains is when foragers, explorers, mushroom hunters spot various of funghi for identification, observation and if lucky, consumption.
The rain was still drizzling outside our home in Vredehoek while we drove with our hound, Enzo, to the Cecilia Forest in Cape Town. Brushed with a dark blue, the sky opened to the morning sun once we found our meeting place where Gary Goldman, the mushroom guru was waiting. Dreams of porcini, pine-rings and new forms of fungi were planted in our minds. What did the forest hold, and what were we going to find?
We carried baskets, pocket knives, and boldness onto the lower slopes of Table Mountain Reserve, with the comfort of having a teacher, Gary, to guide use through our questions of the forage. The dogs sensed excitement-the fresh smells fueled the pack to go in front of the path. Chris joined the front, and just over the barb-wire fence, what looked like a brown leaf was twisted out from the earth. The first find of the day was a porcini treasure, fragrant, firm and joyfully gathered.
Slippery logs laid in our path and speckled leaves lined the moving forest streams-more winter delights came in all different shapes and sizes as we weaved pass the gum tree forests and into pine, cork oak and poplar tree sections. What looked like a brown wood owl flew past us as we continued to collect poplar boletus, porcini, pine-rings and learned to identify a variety of parasite (grows on/from organic-living) and saphrophyte (grows on dead organic material) fungi. After two hours in the forest, my eyes became more aware of mycelia on trees and different fungi characteristics. I was beginning to confidently identify and learn distinctive features of about various mushrooms-my favorite being the saffron-coloured water that stains your hands when you squeeze a pine rings vs ‘a little brown mushroom.’
As we left the forest with happily-filled baskets, I was in awe of the complexity and beauty nature holds in a delicate yet robust web. With every step into our natural world, I learn more about how our environments flourish and where our food comes from. Proper identification, with desired aroma and taste adds a world of medicinal and culinary uses of mushrooms to my culinary linguistics. It’s been dated back to B.C. China, of humans foraging for mushrooms for added sustenance during winter months. I added another day to an ancient practice of mushroom eating history (mychophagy). Today, with the appetite for variety and with the help of a mushroom guru – I became a fungivore-survived and nourished.