Every autumn, stunning orange saffron colored mushrooms start showing up in Australia’s pine forests, at local market and in restaurants around the country.These gorgeous mushrooms are commonly known as pine mushrooms, saffron milk caps (because of their colour) or lacerates delicious (their scientific name). Not native or indigenous to Australia they originated from European pine forests and are believed to have come to Australia by accident, when trees were brought over.
One of the greatest things about being a chef for me is to hand-harvest produce to cook, it becomes more of a passion project, when you are fulltime in a kitchen, it’s very rare that you will forage ingredients for the menu, you support your suppliers, who in turn give you the produce you want, for a decent price. We’re so lucky in the fact that while chefs, we are not full time in one kitchen, we travel between a couple. On travel days you have downtime, time to think about food and menus, time to come up with new recipes while not being under the pump of 100 people walking through the door.
At this time, we are in no kitchens but our own, we’re fermenting, putting on kombuchas, and stocking up the cupboards with spice mixes and pastes for future use, what else is there to do while bored in isolation. Coming out of quarantine after two weeks of being inside, to a couple of rainy days, followed by banging sunshine means it’s the perfect time to go harvest some Saffron caps or Pine mushrooms as we call them here.
There are plenty of state forests, an hour and a half inland from Sydney, we hit the road, still social distancing, as Australia is about to go into full lockdown, discussing future business models, and how we are trying not to go crazy, being home so much.
We are both very active people, like most of you are, and being stuck inside is not our forte. Off the highway, onto a dirt road and into the forests, we drive for about another 20 minutes, passing the odd car, pulled up strategically at what they consider their best mushrooming spot, we find ours, hiking boots go on, lethermans come out, and the classic woollies collection bag, from being responsible and having reusable shopping bags in the car, ‘i’m useless at that and keep buying more until I have about 30 on top of the fridge’.
The cool breeze carrying the scent of pine, slightly damp, is a relief and uplifting, Looking for Mushrooms you can walk around for 10-15 minutes and not see a sign of anything, then out of nowhere they start popping up, under pine needles and rotting logs appear these beautiful fluorescent orange mushrooms, they are beautiful. After spotting the first one, we were on a roll, avoiding the other avid foragers, on our treks through the woods, finding, cutting and bagging our mushrooms, speculating about how we will cook them. We never take too many, just enough for a recipe or two and we hit the road, more conversations of work opportunities and how we are going to come out of this pandemic on the top of our game. This time a little more relaxed and the fragrance of mushroom, dirt, and pine wafting about the car.
Back in Bondi, we decided to pickle a handful of mushrooms with saffron and various aromatics, this is the recipe you have been gifted below, There is something about food that always tastes better when collected yourself, If you do go mushrooming, remember to take a guide book or know what you are looking for, it can be dangerous if you get the wrong ones, same goes for everything you forage, Look it up before you eat it, then enjoy the process of harvesting, cooking and eating. It’s a lovely way to spend a day.