Quarantine is starting to ease slightly, but physical distancing is still an important part of our current reality and we will continue to bring you curated lists of cultural activities to do at home while our doors at NERAM are closed. This weeks Quarantine Culture post takes us on a comfort food adventure, written by foodie, gardener and super creative woman, Amy Irwin.
Cooking has always been a source of comfort for me, and there’s no better way to show love and care for yourself and others than with a home cooked meal. I’ve found myself turning to the kitchen even more now that we are all socially isolating. Cooking is a great way to slow down, it helps you notice seasonal changes, and it unleashes creativity.
I think if there’s a silver lining to social isolation for us in the Southern Hemisphere it’s that it has coincided with Autumn. Autumn is always a great season for cooking and baking as the produce is so delicious, and the temperature is better for oven use. As the temperature cools and the air crisps it’s the perfect time for comfort food. It’s also when the saffron milk cap mushrooms are in season in the pine forest. Lactarius Deliciosus, commonly known saffron milk cap, red pine, or pine mushrooms are a variety of mushroom that grow under pine trees. They’re easy to identify because you’ll only find them under pine trees, and they happen to be bright orange. You’ll find some links about identifying them below. Saffron milk caps are the only mushroom I’m comfortable foraging for due to them being easy to identify, but luckily they’re really delicious; they didn’t get that Latin name for nothing!
I think we are really lucky to have access to a pine forest for recreational use. I’ve been staying home due to having a chronic illness and I’m a little stir crazy now to say it mildly. A weekly walk with the dogs in the Piney has really been a mental and physical health saver. I love taking photos out there, as the light is always beautiful no matter what time of the day you walk. Add to that an added bonus of a tasty dinner and you’re cheering. There are some guidelines you should follow when foraging for mushrooms. Only pick what you’re confident in identifying and take only what you need and will use. We like to cut the mushroom stem so that you leave spores behind, and we also carry the mushrooms in a basket as that will also help spread the mushroom spores ensuring a good season next Autumn. Pick mushrooms that are a good size, but leave anything really big or really small, or anything with too much poo on it. Dust off the mushrooms as you place them in your basket, then when you get home you can clean them off with a brush, or I find that one square of paper towel dampened usually lasts to clean them all.
So once you’ve walked in the Pine Forest, smelled the good smells, basked in some glorious light, and have a haul of mushrooms what are you going to do with them? Luckily you don’t need to do much with these mushrooms to make them tasty. They’re delicious sauteed in butter with garlic and parsley on toast in the morning. You can make really good pizza bianca (that’s pizza without the tomato sauce) and pasta using saffron milk caps. We’ve had them in risotto, and used them to make a wild mushroom beef stroganoff (Recipe from Southern From Scratch by Ashley English). This year I have a dehydrator and I’m drying some to use in soups, stews, and other dishes over winter. The smell as they dry is amazingly deep and earthy. You can powder dried mushrooms with salt for a popcorn or grilled meat spice rub.
My favourite meal thus far has been pine mushroom schnitzels, from the Cornersmith cookbook by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant (definitely worth ordering through Reader’s Companion for home delivery!) Saffron milk caps have a meaty texture that really works well in a schnitzel. We did a morning foraging run for mushrooms, made these for lunch, and ate them with a big salad from our garden. I think this is the ultimate comfort food, fried and crisp, yet earthy and grounding. There’s something really special about cooking something you’ve foraged yourself, it deepens the bond you have with your local area and encourages you to look at it with fresh eyes. I’ve included some great home cooking, iso cooking, and related topic podcasts to listen to while you cook, and some books and websites to help with identification after the recipe. Get out there, explore the forest and enjoy the spoils!
Saffron Milk Cap Schnitzels from Cornersmith, Recipes from the Cafe and Picklery by Alex-Elliott-Howery and James Grant
12 small-medium saffron milk cap mushrooms, stalk removed
2-3 free-range eggs
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
60g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs
40g almond meal
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
Plain flour for dusting
About 80ml (⅓ cup) olive oil
Clean the mushrooms with a pastry brush, clean cloth, or damp paper towel.
Beat the eggs with the garlic and a pinch of salt in a shallow bowl. In another bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, almond meal, lemon zest and thyme.
Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and then dust with flour. Dip them into the egg mixture, followed by the crumb mixture.
In a large frying pan heat around 1cm worth of oil over medium heat, and fry the mushrooms in batches. Fry for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently until they are crisp on the outside and cooked through. You can keep cooked mushrooms warm in a 120C oven. Drain on paper towel or rack, then serve.
Books/websites about/including saffron milk cap mushrooms:
- Cornersmith, Recipes from the Cafe and Picklery by Alex-Elliott-Howery and James Grant
- Milkwood by Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar
- Italian Food Safari by Maeve O’Meara with Guy Grossi
- Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson
- Australia’s accidental love story with this mushroom
- Lactarius Deliciosus
Podcasts to cook to:
- Home Cooking with Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway https://homecooking.show/
- Rouxde Cooking School Podcast https://rouxde.com/
- Ologies Podcast, episode on Mycology https://www.alieward.com/ologies/mycology
- Ologies Podcast episode on Gastroegyptology (bread and Egypt!) https://www.alieward.com/ologies/gastroegyptology