Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Make like a mushroom

“If you call yourself gruzd, then get into the basket.” Is an old Russian proverb which, as far as I’m concerned could mean anything from “May you become old and toothless like a donkey” to “May your daughters prosper and never cost you a dowry” but apparently it’s actually got to do with mushrooms; very special orange mushrooms which are found only under pine trees, are absolutely delicious, and called gruzd in Russian.

Wikipedia has it that mushroom hunting is a very popular and common family activity in Slavic countries, and that the Poles and Russians adore wild mushrooms. So I guess it should have come as little surprise over the weekend when Dave (descendant of Polish grandparents and a Siberian born father), who had wandered into the pine forest adjacent to our campsite to relieve himself, returned a short while later, wild eyed and grinning, arms full of bright orange mushrooms.

Turns out the pine forest around our campsite was a veritable hothouse for gruzd, or red pine mushrooms, or lactarius deliciosus if you want to get serious. So it wasn’t long before we chopped up the delicious specimens, threw them in a pan with some oil, garlic and chilli and chucked the whole lot over some hot coals. What resulted was some of the most spectacularly meaty, smokey, juicy mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, and a whole lot of interest from our fellow campers.

Dave quickly became the local mycologist (mushroom expert) instructing kids around the campsite to search for the fluted orange mushrooms with pale rings on the cap, bled orange sap when cut open, and bruised a strange greenish blue colour when damaged. Upon reflection, encouraging kids to search for mushrooms in the forest and then eat them may not have been the wisest idea, especially considering our four year old tent-neighbour Hugo picked a seriously deadly looking red and white toadstool and proudly brought it back to camp. In fact, now that I mention it, unless you happen to have a father who regularly goes mushroom hunting, you have generations of mushroom picking in your blood and you’re 110% sure that the mushrooms are safe, I would recommend NOT picking wild mushrooms and eating them, no matter how delicious they may look.

That having been said, 4 days and about 4 large servings of foraged mushrooms later and here I am, still typing away.

I sadly didn’t manage to take any photos of the mushrooms we ate while camping, but in a happy coincidence, upon our return, it turned out that Dave’s dad had spent the day in his favourite (and top secret) mushrooming spot near Daylesford, and had bags of them for us to take home. Yum!

So last night, Dave set to work preparing the mushrooms, and I made some potato gnocchi. I’m not going to bother with a gnocchi recipe here, partly because they were really just a vessel for more mushrooms, but also because there’s a wonderful step by step recipe for perfect gnocchi at tummyrumbles which I would recommend to everyone wanting to make their own.

This is a very simple recipe, but there’s just something about mushrooms; they’re not quite plant, not quite animal, mysterious, often poisonous and supremely delicious – so if you can get your hands on some interesting wild mushrooms, then make like a gruzd and get into this recipe.

Oh and by the way - I've decided to enter this post in Weekend Herb Blogging #228 (even though mushrooms are technically a plant, they're a fungus.) WHB was started by Kalyn and is now organised by Haalo. This week the event is being hosted at The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty.

Panfried wild mushrooms

500gm wild mushrooms
¼ cup good olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika
1tsp salt
1tsp fresh black pepper

Prepare the mushrooms by wiping them down with a paper towel to remove any dirt and grubs. Check the stems of the mushrooms, many of the larger ones will have been eaten by bugs, so remove the stems that look a bit rotten through the middle.

Thinly slice the mushrooms – your hands, the knife and the chopping board will be stained a lovely bright orange colour – don’t fear, this is normal!

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium high heat and add the garlic, paprika, thyme and cayenne and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant but not burnt.

Throw the mushrooms into the pan along with the salt and pepper.

Continue to cook the mushrooms, tossing occasionally for about 10 minutes or until well cooked through. (These mushrooms should not be eaten raw!)

Serve the mushrooms over potato gnocchi, polenta, on toast or just eat them as they are with a fork, from the pan – preferably sitting in front of a campfire, next to a running stream, in the shade of the enormous pine forest you gathered the mushrooms from.


  1. My Dad knows them as "rydzy", which is their Polish name (the "y"s are pronounced similarly to the sound french people make when thinking). The smell is very silvan, exactly like a damp pine forest in autumn.

  2. How do you know you've got the right mushrooms? I'd be worried about picking poisonous ones!!!

  3. Well, to be honest, we were a little bit nervous about them being the wrong ones. Basically - unless you've got a lot of experience and knowledge around picking mushrooms, I'd give it a miss and pick some up at the market instead!

  4. My choice would be over polenta, or straight from the pan. I grew up eating wild mushrooms, thanks to the knowledge of family members. Now I live in a different country and have lost that connection. I still remember the flavor, though, and the smell in the kitchen when my mother cooked them. Very nice post!

  5. Thanks Simona - mushrooms and polenta are an absolute classic - if you do get to try this, try stirring some marscapone into the polenta before serving - absolutely scrumptious!

  6. These look delicious! I love the idea of putting them over polenta.

    I wish I could go mushroom picking but probably shouldn't considering the fact that I know nothing about it at all whatsoever. Maybe one day I will find an expert to go with me.