Before you rummage around in the cupboard for the tie-dye shirt, flared pants and a string of flowers, we’re talking about culinary magic mushrooms, not the 1960s counterculture variety.
In the age of Aquarius, former Harvard University researcher Timothy Leary elevated psilocybin mushrooms and the synthetic hallucinogen LSD to promote a greater consciousness. He became an icon of the hippy set with his mantra of “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Leary won converts amongst the young with his evangelical zeal for mind-altering substances, but for a conservative generation left behind, he probably did more damage to the wild mushroom brand than anyone before or since.
Foraging for wild mushrooms is something a hunter is naturally inclined to do, and the culinary reward is well worth the effort. It is, however, a task best left to the well-educated.
Australia has plenty of fungi, and poisonous varieties come in three forms: those that kill you, those that make you very sick, or those that make you see things that aren’t there.
The bad news is that not all dangerous fungi taste unpleasant, so you need to be able to clearly identify the edible ones or you risk a trip to hospital (or worse) or at the very least a “trip” back to the era of peace and free love.
Done properly, wild mushrooms are a terrific addition to the arsenal of a game food cook. For those who can’t tell a death cap (responsible for 90 per cent of mushroom deaths) from a yellow-staining mushroom (the most commonly consumed poisonous variety) it might be best to seek out a good produce store, or even better, try growing your own.
Australian Deer Association executive officer Barry Howlett traded in his executive cap for an apron recently after coming across some pine mushrooms.
As the name suggests, these grow under pine trees and are easy to locate in the wild. You can also find them on offer at some farmers’ markets.
Barry got to work whipping up two dishes in the upstairs kitchen at String and Salt in Warragul.
After prepping the onions on the stove Barry pulled out a strange-looking kitchen instrument that looked like it would be more at home at an archaeological dig – a mushroom knife.
“It’s important to remember, game is more than just meat,” he said as he cleaned the mushrooms.
“It’s everything from meat to fish to wild vegetables like these mushrooms.
“And segments like this one are here to show people this variety and potential broad uses.”
After pan-frying chorizo, bacon and the mushrooms, Barry poured a splash of white wine into the sauce, which already had the sautéed onions and garlic.
“I remember Riccardo (Momesso from Ferrovia) saying at the Wild Harvest Cooking School you shouldn’t bother cooking with wine you wouldn’t drink,” he said.
“Now I’ve never made this dish before, but I love the way the white wine blends with the garlic.”
Barry said pine mushrooms were a great food source to experiment with if you were cooking with game meat, particularly in the colder seasons.
“The rich flavour complements the meat and is perfect for a warm pasta dish like this,” he said (before anyone starts we know that Gnocchi isn't technically pasta).
Like all game food, pine mushrooms are a versatile ingredient suiting both hot and cold dishes; and they were also great marinated, Barry said as he revealed his second dish of the day: pine mushrooms marinated in apple cider vinegar and chilli.
Replicating the low maintenance theme of not only the first dish but game food dishes in general, this dish is also a one-pot meal situation. Simple, but delicious.
“These mushrooms will go really well with some hard bread – something like a toasty ciabatta,” Barry said as he ladled the mushrooms and sauce into refrigerated jars.
“You should leave this for 24 hours in the fridge before eating it, and then it should last about a week, if you can leave it that long.”
Next time you are out on a hunt and come across some edible mushrooms, why not grab them for the next dish, and share a plate with a mate.
After all, food is the universal language, and sharing a meal with a non-hunting neighbour is a perfect conversation starter to explain why we do what we do, and why sustainable and ethical hunting is so important and valuable to the ADA and its members.
String & Salt offer a fantastic range of cooking and preserving supplies, a cooking school and a wide range of appliances including Cleaver Salumi Cabinets and Z-Grills pellet grillers. Check them out online or at their showroom at 42 Smith St, Warragul, Vic