I have been mushroom hunting over the last couple of days as the weather has turned recently, producing “perfect” mushroom growing conditions – so I have been told. This is the first year that I have turned my hand to this local sport as the land surrounding where we live is meant to be very rich for mushrooms. In the spring I collected St George mushrooms (that were delicious in a rabbit pie) and Girolles which I used in an array of sauces. However, I have only ever found three Cepes which are meant to be the most common mushroom in our area. Earlier in the year I asked a local family who are members of the hunt whether they felt it was a good or bad year for mushrooms. After much conferring they announced that it was a very poor year as they had only been able to find 20 kilos of Cepes in three hours! This made me think that I am clearly doing something wrong, or I am not getting to the mushrooms before the other mushroom hunters.
So, now that the conditions are right I have decided to give mushroom hunting another try and recently I have come across several different types. This has been great though the next problem has been that I have been unable to identify them bar one, a rather unattractive mushroom called ‘Langue de Boeuf’ (Beef Tongue). A few days ago I went to the local pharmacy as they are supposed to be trained to identify mushrooms – however, unfortunately the man who would normally be able to help was away.
Today, one of our workmen with a great knowledge of all things to do with nature was on site, so I consulted him even though the mushrooms were a couple of days old. He took a good look at them and said the following wise words, “as I do not know exactly what they are, you need to apply the number 1 rule of mushroom hunting, if you are even the slightest bit unsure what type they are NEVER eat them!” He then regaled a story of one of his friends, who went mushroom collecting one day and came back with some mushrooms he thought he recognised, he ate some of them but as they didn’t taste particularly nice so he fed the rest to his dog. That night the man was terribly ill, to such an extent he was admitted to hospital the following day but fortunately he recovered, the dog however sadly did not, and died. Taking both this story and the number one rule of mushroom hunting into account I decided the best approach was to place the mushrooms in the bin. (If anyone does have an idea what type of mushrooms these could be please do let me know.)
After my failed attempt at mushroom hunting I headed in the direction of our vegetable garden and decided to see if there was anything that was ready to be picked. I found some baby turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, a diminutive pumpkin and a Praying Mantis. I felt the best way to enjoy them (the vegetables not the Praying Mantis) was to put them into a chunky autumnal soup. I decided to not to blend the soup because I wanted to keep the flavours separate as Jerusalem artichokes can overpower the other flavours when everything is all blending together.
Each week we buy a 2kg bag of carrots which disappear fairly rapidly. You might think that this is because we, as a family absolutely adore carrots and can’t get enough of them – but this is not the case. The truth is, there is a lot of competition for carrots in our house from our four legged friends, in the form of our two donkeys (Sampson & Delilah) and two dogs (Shadow and Biggles). I suspect you might be thinking -donkeys and carrots sure, but dogs – really?! When we got the donkeys five years ago the standard form of bribery treat was carrot – the dogs quickly cottoned on to this and started to lurk around the donkeys whilst the carrot was being given and in an attempt to not show an form of favouritism the dogs were duly given a bit of carrot.
Sampson (right) and Delilah (left)
Over the years “CARROT” has become one of the few words that the dogs respond to. Shadow who is a 12½ year old Belgian Shepherd will now only go outside in the evenings if someone goes to the fridge and gets out a piece of carrot (I think our dogs have us all figured out). I wish I could also say that I was joking when I tell you that Biggles our 8 year old Springer Spaniel comes rushing into the kitchen when he hears a vegetable peeler being taken out of the drawer and will sit by me until he receives the carrot peelings (he always looks so disappointed when it turns out I am peeling potatoes instead).
Today, I decided it was our turn to enjoy the carrots rather than giving them to the animals. I’d made some stock the other day and I wanted to use it in a soup. So, this morning I set to work and made a Carrot and Red Lentil Soup.
Carrot and Red Lentil Soup
200g Red Lentils
4 large carrots (peeled and chopped)
2 small onions (diced)
1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp coriander seeds (crushed)
1 litre stock
Oil (for cooking with)
Prepare the lentils by soaking them in water for 30-45 minutes, then drain.
Place the onions and garlic in a large saucepan with a little oil and some sugar. Cook on a low heat until soft.
Add the cumin, coriander and carrots and cook stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes, before adding the stock and the lentils.
Cook on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the carrots are cooked.
Season according to your tastes and then liquidise the soup, before serving with a little cream or crème fraiche.
Due to the nature of the food that is available in the local markets and supermarkets around us the majority of the food I make is seasonal. At the moment I am having to find inventive ways to cook peppers, courgettes, aubergines as they are just so cheap. I love these types of vegetables in curries or just simply roasted, however, it is just too hot for that type of food at the moment.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been making stuffed peppers as they are a little bit different and look very pretty on a plate with some salad. I find stuffed peppers are relatively simple to make and the other joy with them is you can turn them into a great vegetarian option by simply removing the meat from the recipe and they are just as tasty. I tend to use blue cheese as I just love its taste, however mozzarella works very nicely as well.