How to go mushroom hunting MzansiBride

Winona Griggs


Discover the Thrill of Mushroom Hunting

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. Being a vegetarian, they are an essential part of my diet. Whenever I travel, I make sure to indulge in porcini and fresh truffle dishes in Italy or savor the unique and fascinating types of fungi in Asia. Unfortunately, South Africa’s mushroom variety is quite limited, as most supermarkets only offer the standard white button mushrooms. However, I have noticed a positive trend lately, with exotic mushrooms becoming more readily available, especially at Woolies. Whenever I have a craving for mushrooms, you can bet I grab some of these!

Imagine my excitement when I received an invitation to a mushroom day at the enchanting Delheim wine estate, nestled in the picturesque winelands near Stellenbosch. The invitation promised an extraordinary experience—an opportunity to forage for mushrooms in a secret location in the forest, followed by a delightful mushroom tasting and a delectable lunch paired perfectly with local wines. Needless to say, they didn’t have to ask me twice…

So, there I was, on a cold winter morning, searching for mushrooms in the woods on Delheim’s estate. This was my first time foraging for anything, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. Before our mushroom hunt began, we were introduced to Adriaan Smit, an expert on mushrooms and the Managing Director of the SA Gourmet Mushroom Academy in Stellenbosch. He shared valuable tips for successful foraging, ensuring that we only picked safe mushrooms. Adriaan even brought along boxes filled with freshly-picked, remarkable-looking mushrooms, and along with them, came stories that captivated us.

If you’ve ever heard of the shaggy mane mushroom, you might find it quite fascinating. This unique fungus has an interesting property – it turns into a puddle of ink if not consumed within a day of being picked. While it may not be suitable for eating, it can certainly be used for artistic endeavors, like painting. On the other hand, there’s a mushroom known as the amanita pantherina that is considered incredibly dangerous. Surprisingly, you can touch these deadly mushrooms without suffering any harm.

Believe it or not, white button mushrooms and brown mushrooms are essentially the same variety. The only difference is that the brown ones are harvested eight hours after the white ones. It’s a curious fact that highlights the subtle variations that can occur in the world of mushrooms.

Now, let’s talk about the ink cap mushroom. Unlike the shaggy mane, this one is safe to eat. However, there’s an important caveat – if you consume wine within a week of eating this mushroom, it can lead to a poisonous reaction. So, it’s best to be cautious with your food and beverage choices.

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Lastly, there’s a fascinating mushroom that tastes remarkably like chicken. Who would have thought that a simple fungus could mimic the flavor of a popular poultry dish? It just goes to show that the world of mushrooms is full of surprises and peculiarities.

I was curious, and I asked the question that’s on everyone’s mind – “What about magic mushrooms?” Adriaan’s response was intriguing. Apparently, magic mushrooms grow on decomposing matter, and you can actually find them in various places. However, most of the magic mushrooms that people buy are imported from other African countries and are often not properly dried. As a result, cases of food poisoning from consuming these mushrooms are quite common. This made me wonder if it wouldn’t be safer to become a mycologist and pick your own magic shrooms.

Intrigued by the idea, we made our way into the woods. To my surprise, there were a surprisingly large number of mushrooms scattered around, most of which I had never noticed before. As we walked, Adriaan would pick mushrooms and share interesting facts about each one. However, there were some mushrooms even he couldn’t identify, which made me think twice about venturing into mushroom hunting on my own. It turns out that there are a staggering 1.5 million species of mushrooms, with only a few of them being deadly. Still, it’s not worth risking your life for a fancy risotto.

So, a group of us ventured out into the woods to go mushroom hunting. We each wandered off in different directions, and I found myself captivated by the enchanting process of foraging. It felt like stepping into one of those magical stories I used to read as a child, where I would explore the woods and discover hidden treasures under the branches.

Once we finished our foraging expedition, we gathered together again and listened to a presentation by Nouvelle Mushrooms. They’re a company that supplies exotic mushrooms to places like Woolworths and restaurants. The managing director spoke passionately about the numerous health benefits of mushrooms. It turns out that mushrooms are actually anti-metogenic, which means they can help fight against cancerous tumors. In fact, certain types of mushrooms are even used in cancer medication. On top of that, mushrooms are rich in antioxidants and can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. It’s interesting to note that in Asia, mushrooms are revered for their health properties, while in the Western world, we tend to overlook their potential.

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During our presentation, we had the opportunity to try out different types of mushrooms. We sampled king oyster, shimeji, and shiitake mushrooms, and I have to say, they were all absolutely delicious. Out of all three, I especially enjoyed the shiitake mushrooms because of their rich, savory flavor.

At the end of our day filled with mushrooms, we were treated to a delightful three-course mushroom meal at Delheim’s restaurant. The first course was a refreshing salad made with paw paw and shimeji mushrooms, dressed with a zesty ginger, chilli, and citrus dressing. It was paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Surprisingly, the sweet and cold paw paw perfectly complemented the earthy flavors of the mushrooms. I was so impressed that I want to try making this salad at home!

While everyone else at the table ordered the mushroom risotto, I decided to go for the tagliatelle with a creamy sauce made from a medley of exotic mushrooms. It was accompanied by a glass of Chenin Blanc. The combination was mouthwatering. Who would have thought that mushrooms could be transformed into such a delectable pasta dish?

And the surprises kept coming. Did you know that mushrooms can even be used to make a dessert? We were served shiitake-flavored cookies, which were paired with Gewürztraminer. It was only after taking a bite that you could truly savor the distinct mushroom flavor. It was a unique and unforgettable treat.

I discovered more reasons to love mushrooms when I left Delheim with a container of mixed exotic mushrooms. All I could think about were the delicious mushroom dishes I could create. No more plain button mushrooms for me!

Tips for mushroom hunting

– Avoid mushrooms with white gills.

– Mushrooms with pores are safe to use in a risotto – no deadly mushrooms have pores.

– It’s best to stay away from little brown mushrooms (known as LBMs) as they could be deadly. It’s not worth the risk.

– If you’re not an expert, don’t go mushroom hunting alone. Join a mushroom foraging group and bring along mushroom identification books. It’s crucial to be absolutely certain about the mushrooms you pick before eating them.

Let’s talk about pine ring mushrooms. They’re super easy to spot because of their bright orange color. If you happen to bruise them, they’ll turn green. And if you cut them, they’ll excrete a cool orange milk. Plus, they taste absolutely delicious!

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Now, here’s an interesting fact. If you eat a mushroom and have a bad reaction within a few hours, count yourself lucky. You might get sick, but you won’t kick the bucket. However, if you start feeling symptoms between eight to twenty-four hours after eating a mushroom, oops, you’ve probably ingested a deadly one. Yikes!

Now, here are some tips for eating mushrooms straight from Nouvelle Mushrooms:

Have you tried shiitake mushrooms? They have a powerful flavor that goes well with all kinds of dishes like veggies, meat, seafood, and poultry. You can use them in risottos, stews, stir-fries, and soups. They add an extra oomph to anything you cook!

Now let’s talk about king oyster mushrooms. These bad boys are firm and chewy. You can use them in Italian dishes, or go wild and grill, barbecue, or deep fry them in tempura. There are so many delicious possibilities!

Have you ever come across those enchanting enoki mushrooms? They look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a fairytale. And let me tell you, they are absolutely delightful in salads, usually enjoyed in their raw and natural form. Over in Japan, they are commonly used in soups to add that special touch.

If you’re in the mood for something heartier, shimeji mushrooms are a fantastic choice. Boiled or fried, they make a mouthwatering pasta sauce that will satisfy your taste buds.

Now, let’s shift our attention to cultivating your very own mushrooms. Did you know that the Gourmet Mushroom Academy offers various courses on mushroom cultivation? You can become a mushroom maestro in no time!

When it comes to growing mushrooms, they have a few specific needs. They thrive in high-humidity environments with lower temperatures. The fascinating part is that you can grow them organically, entirely free from harmful pesticides or fungicides!

Here’s a little fact for you: all mushrooms belong to the fungi family, but not all fungi are mushrooms. Isn’t that an interesting distinction?

If you’re intrigued by the world of mushrooms and want to explore it further, you’re in luck! Delheim’s Mushroom Week is currently underway until 10 July. Take a trip to their magnificent wine estate, where you can learn all about wild mushrooms and savor their delectable wild mushroom dishes. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss!

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