Life is too short to stuff a mushroom!
So said the glorious self-proclaimed ‘Superwoman’ who is Shirley Conran and I have to agree. However, it is also true that if I live to be twice the age I am now I will never tire of stuffing mushrooms.
Oddly enough, as a child I was frightened to the point of being phobic of fungus. It’s called Mycophobia in fact and happily I grew out of it (except for a disastrous relationship with a man called Mike but that really is another story). Who knows why I was so scared, but my evil older brother was quick to use toadstools to ward me off if he didn’t want to play with me. On one occasion, along with one of his best friends he trapped me in the narrow passage between our old wooden garage and the laurel hedge, dark and dank on one of those musty Autumn days, by luring me down to ‘see something amazing’. I was about 5 so imagined a lollypop tree at the very least. They blocked the entrance as I ventured in to find the wonders of which they spoke, so that there was no escape when I came across the giant clump of festering fungus in my path. I was found some time later, a gibbering, sobbing wreck by my father who presumably assumed I was playing quietly somewhere on my own. I don’t believe in Karma so do not connect in any way the fact that the friend was later the sole British survivor of the Estonia Ferry disaster, with the torturing of an innocent by fungus.
Today I can be found happily examining the huge variety of fungi that we find out walking, photographing them and poring over our books to find out if they are edible.
In August, walking high above the Vallee de la Santoire in the Cézallier paysage of Le Cantal, we found the most enormous mushroom. It looked like a pancake and was roughly the diametre of a big one. We photographed it. The following day, our young neighbour happened past with an armful of the same whoppers … I asked him if they were edible. Oh yes, he replied – they are Coulemelle and they taste really good – especially the young ones. His girlfriend (who hails from further south in Lozère) was later heard shouting down the phone to her mother ‘he’s brought me a load of enormous flat mushrooms …. what on earth do I do with them?’. Despite the fact that I prefer not to be branded a nosy neighbour I listened intently and made notes. On checking our book they get three chefs hats which is as good as it gets – the edible fungus equivalent of a big fat gold star.
Coulemelle (Latin name Macrolepiota procera) grow a long stem with a distinctive frill some way up. The young plant has a rounded cloche cap which eventually opens up into a large flat beret. They look very sturdy but in fact they are delicate and on picking will quickly start to wilt underneath. The gills (lamelles in French) are almost tissue soft.
When Two Brains arrived from the US for his present stay, we walked a walk I have not done for a year even though it is only a ten minute drive from home, on account of the fact that there is a kilometre stretch on the road and The Bean behaved deplorably the last time and had to be carried. Low and behold on our way we found a Coulemelle. Just one and quite old so we decided to make it into soup as instructed by those we had spoken too or evestropped on. You can also include them in a stew the same sources reveal. My first attempt at the said potage and I can report it was edible but the flavour so delicate as to be barely discernable and my choice of thyme to season overwhelmed the mushroom. Overnight, though it developed and the second bowl at lunchtime the following day was improved if not memorable. And we didn’t suffer any ill effects. Which was a big hurrah!
A week and several walks later we hit the mother-load. These little lovelies tend to grow on their own – or at least apart from one another, not in sociable clumps. We found a baby all by itself and then in a barbed wired field taunting us, an adolescent and a fully mature stonker. Two Brains hesitated but surcumbed to the look of longing on my face and braved the field like a commando seeking a hostage. The Bean watched anxiously but mercifully beloved master returned unharmed and triumphant.
The next day, a single speciment close to home and the cook-up was on. The baby made a lovely omelette – and the curious thing is that the taste is stronger than their older siblings. The big boys went into a soup thus:
- Remove stalks and discard (I expect they are perfectly edible but I didn’t)
- Cut the cap into thin spears
- Sweat a largish onion (and if you must a clove of garlic but personally I think that is too strong) in a small knob of butter or about a dessert spoon of olive oil
- Chuck in some parsely stalks, chopped
- When the vegetables are softened, add about a pint of milk and the same of water
- Simmer for 45 minutes adding a good tablespoon of chopped parsely half way though
- Blitz with a blender and stir in a good dessert spoon of cream or crème fraiche and eat with the smug look of someone who is eating something delicious that cost next to nothing
So there you have it – my first recipe for virtually free soup. We are no experts and as tempting as it is to go into a fungal frenzy we are taking one genus at a time and learning about it. And we have our gloriously irreverant pharmacist to assist where necessary because this is France and that is all part of the Chemist’s service.
PS: On the same walk we picked up a huge quantity of Chataignes (sweet chestnuts) of which more in a later post including some tasty recipes (assuming we survive the tasting) …
You did take me back there! I was lucky enough to have a French friend who really knew his mushrooms and taught me what to look for, when and where – and how to tell the dangerous brutes!
Mark you, we would go to the autumn mushroom shows and be convinced we had just eaten for lunch all those marked with a skull and crossbones…
One thing puzzled me…the shaggy inkcaps were supposed to be fine – as long as you didn’t drink booze at the same time. Knowing the habits of the old boys in my area at the time their seeming immunity astonished me. Pickled wasn’t the world for them!
Coulemelles – under the grill with butter: coulemelles – the car stuck in the muddy track into the woods as we made off with a laden basket: coulemelles – the sheer enchantment of them rising from the bracken…
And our first chemist…never mind the queue with ailments and prescriptions, the sight of a basket of assorted fungi coming through the door had all the rest put aside while he lectured on each specimen – and the gave the assembled masses an examination!
Thank you so much…you brought back a whole world!
It’s for me to thank you, Helen for that wonderful evocative description of your memories of mushroom mania! 🙂
We often see these when we’re out walking, but always assumed they were toxic, on the grounds that they hadn’t been picked by French people. The woods around us are well known locally for their fungii, and people often drive up here after rain with their baskets. I’m a little nervous about chancing something that could be tasty, but on the other hand could kill you! I’m totally woth you on the chestnuts though.
I must say i wouldnt chance it but for the goid advice if locals and the pharmacist … And even then it could be a ot to get rid of me!
Made my mouth water!
They sure do look pretty! I’m not sure I’d dare to pick them wild, though….I’d be terrified the whole time I was eating them. Thanks for sharing your fungal exploits!
excellent and yummy post… <3 I'm a mushroom gal: any time, anywhere, anyhow! 🙂
Thank you – it’s always the most fun writing about what I love 🙂
It’s just so risky when your a novice mushroom fancier. I will just arrange mine prettily and photograph. Tony has already panicked and consigned the bowl they are sitting in to “garden duty only”!!
The soup looks delicious and quite right to feel smug.
It is extremely risky but you can always take them to your local pharmacist and they won’t think it strange …. all part of their service. Yet another thing to love about France. Thank you for complimenting my soup – you’ve rather made my day!
Fear of fungi? I am going to look that one up. I have always seen them as friendly..it was elves, and gnomes that scared me. Can’t bare them. Oh and clowns..there is a term for that but can’t offhand remember.
I do not have brothers or sisters, but my close friends brother was horrid and did the usual toads and creepy crawlies into our school satchels. But later, during a mock sword fight (but with real rusty old swords), I was a better dualist and cutting his hand, he cried and that was it..no more scaring me. Ah the days before health and safety! Hope you got your own back 😉
The fear was entirely irrational, I think and I can’t remember when I grew out of it. Excellent come-uppance you gave your friend’s brother. I like that story very much. My brother continued to be pretty vile until he went to University when he transformed into quite a nice chap …funny how things change over time. And mostly good. 😊