About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, April 24, 2006
Hunter Gatherer
I have had a real hunter gatherer weekend.

First up, on Saturday we went down to our mushroom spots on the Mornington Peninsula. Our very first forage yielded up one box of slippery jacks (suillus luteus). These are always up before saffron milk caps (lactarius deliciosis) which are the autumn mushrooms we prize above all others. The mushrooms that we picked were only just up and extremely fresh, which is very important, especially when you want to preserve them.

Driving around we had one of those magical moments when we saw a sign for free range eggs at Billabong Bed & Breakfast. Stopping off, we had a pleasant chat with one of the owners. We told him we were out mushrooming and he invited us to check out his property. It is a large and rambling place with paths throughout the extensive gardens and one of the paths led past a spring fed lake and up into pine trees. The lake was breathtakingly clear, but there didn't appear to be any fish in it. Later on the owner told us he had stocked it with trout, but because of his properties closeness to the Coolart Wetlands, water birds had had a nice time feeding on the fingerlings.

Up into the pines we found a large patch of slippery jacks, which we picked. The owners dog, Bindi, accompanied us, and our daughter M and Bindi were soon close mates. Wife D showed me a different form of the slippery jack that was growing there. It looked a lot like a porcini (boletus edulis), but sadly it wasn't. If it was, I sure wouldn't be telling you about it, as it would be the first recorded instance of them growing in Australia. Apparently there are some porcinis growing in Kings Park in New Zealand, amongst the oaks, but because everyone is on to them, they never get much bigger than a champagne cork.

After we had finished picking we offered some of the mushrooms to the owners, but they politely declined. It's not unusual amongst Australians from an Anglo Saxon background to do so, as they are unsure about them. However, anyone from Europe would be more likely to accept. The owners then produced a loaf of bread and led us to to a paddock with a resident horse which M was delighted to feed.

After this pleasant interlude it was of to the apple orchard for new season cox's orange pippin. It's an English apple that I've heard so much about, but had never actually eaten one, or for that matter cooked with either. Several chefs have gone on about the cooking qualities, apparently it becomes light and fluffy upon cooking. We wouldn't know yet, for we almost ate two kilos (4.4 lb) of them raw over the weekend, they were that delicious. But I'm plotting to make my deadly apple tart with them. There is a post in the offing, but briefly, the apples are sliced into eighths, softened slightly in some sugar and butter and placed into a blindbaked shortcrust tart case. The remaining sugar and butter that is now mixed with apple juices, is cooked down to a caramel and then mixed with some cream and poured onto the apple slices and baked. Heaven indeed.

The next day was the hunting part of the weekend when I was off for our last fishing trip of the season. The weather was decidedly cool, with wind and showers coming up from the Antartic. Our target species, King George whiting had vacated the estuarine system that is Western Port, leaving only flathead to catch. They weren't biting freely, but eventually we ended up with two dozen with a few good sized ones amongst them. Most Aussies love flathead, not only are they a great eating fish, but they bite freely and anyone can catch them. I love them not only for their culinary qualities, but they have a large head which makes for great fish stock. If they were a Mediterranean species, they would doubtless be a part of the mix for making bouillabaisse, the classic French fish soup.

I saw some being cooked on the weekend on the telly and I can tell you the small fish were not gutted prior to cooking, and I saw a secret ingredient, powdered roasted lobster shell. My flathead are all gutted, but that won't stop me from making a reasonable facsimile of this classic soup, with the flavours of garlic, saffron and olive oil with a concentrated fish flavour. It was a soup born of leftover fish and was once considered to be cheap food, alas no longer. It is also the dish from whence saffron mashed potatoes sprung. A chef was eating some one day and idly crushed his potato into the saffron flavoured juices in the bottom of his bowl and voila, a new dish was born.
  posted at 9:46 am

At 10:34 pm, Blogger Kevin said...


What a great weekend! I've been trying to find someone to take me mushrooming but haven't succeeded yet.

At 6:17 am, Blogger Gigi said...

That bouillabaisse sounds heavenly. I really have to stop coming around here while I'm dieting, though. Now all I can think of is the aroma of garlic and saffron, and the earthy meatiness of some of those fresh-picked mushrooms...

It's kind of painful. (But don't stop!) ;D

At 7:54 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi Kevin, you would probably need to get in touch with a local mycological society which are usually attached to botanical gardens. These societies sometimes organise mushroom forages in season with trained mycologists. Once you get to know your target species and its preferred habitat, mushrooming becomes quite easy. Of course the advice is for any mushroom you don't know, don't eat it.

Hi gigi, yeah it's painful in a nice way ;-)

At 7:55 am, Blogger Reb said...

Go the apple tart! Looking forward to reading about that one!

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