Autumn foraging: mushrooms


A rustic pan filled wtih foraged mushrooms, cooked with garlic and butter with runny eggs
Photograph: Joe Woodhouse
As autumn hedgerows hang laden with berries, orchard fruits start to fall and mushrooms begin to spring up, we asked forager Julius Roberts to show us the abundance of good things he finds on his doorstep. In the first installment, he goes mushroom hunting.

Come September, I am to be found rootling through woods, my frustrated lurchers wishing we were on a proper walk. My head is permanently on a swivel. I often stop while driving after seeing a tell-tale mushroom beside the road which might lead to more.

I find myself in the most wonderful trance when looking for mushrooms. A mindful daydream, scanning the patterns of leaves, searching for irregularities rather than something specific. Foragers are intensely secretive and guard their treasured spots. The other day a friend offered to take me to his favourite chanterelle patch, boasting kilos of mushrooms. The caveat was that he’d have to lead me there blindfolded.

Julius Roberts, forager, uses his mushroom knife to cut away beautiful chicken of the woods mushrooms
Julius uses his mushroom knife to carefully harvest chicken of the woods mushrooms

The tools of the trade

I carry a little knife, my favourite mushroom book for identification and a basket or bag. It’s important to remember that foraging is taking valuable food from nature’s fragile ecosystems that are constantly struggling to survive.

Sadly, we have destroyed a vast amount of the natural world with our farming; extinction rates are currently a thousand times their natural levels. Taking food from the last few remaining sanctuaries is something to be particularly careful with. A mushroom is the fruiting body of a much larger fungus below. It is rising up to disperse its seeds. The key, then, is not to take them all. Leave a few behind. The spores released will feed you (not to mention the birds, beetles, frogs, toads, snakes and hedgehog) for years to come.

The simplest recipe

There are, of course, all sorts of ways to cook mushrooms; often what you find will suggest a certain method. But, without doubt, my favourite is the simplest of all. It hardly needs a recipe, so here is a rough guide.

Carefully clean the mushrooms of grit and dirt with a knife or paintbrush and slice into equal chunks. Porcini are especially tender so can be left quite thick. Chicken of the woods is quite meaty and needs to be cut fairly thin.

Add around 40g butter and one smashed garlic clove per person and heat gently in a heavy-based pan. When the butter begins to foam add a few sprigs of fresh thyme and the mushrooms. Follow with a hefty pinch of sea salt and give everything a mix. This will coat the mushrooms in the flavoured butter. Cook until they are tender and caramelised, adding a splash of white wine, vermouth or water to keep things moist. (This is especially helpful when cooking on a campfire.)

When the mushrooms are ready crack in an egg per person. Serve with runny yolks, a scattering of pepper and slices of buttered bread to be merrily dipped and dunked.

What to drink alongside mushrooms

If you’re wondering what to drink alongside, we would heartily recommend a delicious Pinot Noir. This, from California’s Au Bon Climat, will perfectly match the earthy combination of mushrooms and eggs. Alternatively, you can browse our food-friendly seasonal wine selection here.

Julius originally wrote this article for our Autumn 2020 issue of No.3 magazine. To find more on Julius, follow him here.