n: saffron milk cap
l: belanglo state forest
It feels as though quite some time has passed since I have shared my own food stories here. The past few recipes have been courtesy of some dear friends, photographed on the go during the time I spent with them on my travels and while visiting their homes. But now that I too am home, settled and have successfully spent the past couple of months developing a solid amount of hibernation and antisocial behaviours (a side effect of moving countries, travelling nonstop and sorting my Australian self out), I am finally ready to step out and post a regular flow of my own food stories and recipes here again.
For me, understanding and appreciating an ingredient – from where it grows, when it grows, how it grows and who grows it – is fascinating. I’ve mentioned before that some of my best food memories have come from the times where I was able to visit small, carefully curated farms to experience directly the source of a food and the course it goes through to become its final product. I love the learning and connection that you encounter here. I love the raw and the real of it. The slower pace that it injects. The beginning of the whole story. The process, not just the product. This is the part about food that I love most. And I want to continue to photograph that.
So, that’s what I’m going to do. For the next however long, I’ll be visiting small farms and foraging spots to seek out regional and seasonal ingredients. Paddocks. Orchids. Oceans. Rivers. Forests. The lot. I want to learn about each ingredients story. Seek their sources. Meet their makers. Document, appreciated and share the process, and then follow it all up with some scrummy, nourishing recipes.
And I’m going to start here. At the very end of autumn, with these foraged saffron milk caps.
There was a period of time some five years ago where I didn't see autumn for about three years. I would decide every summer to head to the Northern Hemisphere, where I would arrive to the cold and bitter winter, stay through the celebrated, warming spring and as soon as summer ended I would fly back to Australia to greet the spring again. It wasn’t all planned to play out this way, but it happened at least three times in a row. Which meant that although I was seeing the world, I wasn't seeing autumn.
Finally, one and a half years ago, I stayed long enough in the northern hemisphere to see the season through. Twice. The colours had me. The flavours had me. The weather had me. Autumn, I declared, was my favourite.
So you can imagine my joy when only three months after leaving this scrumptious season in the USA, I was greeted with it again here in Australia. I’m playing catch up. And it has been heaven. There has been quince baking and adding figs and pears to every salad and dessert. Sinking spoons into I don't know how many custard apples. There’s leafy winter greens all prepped and growing in the garden and I can't get enough of driving through fog, shuffling through falling leaves and lighting as many fires as I can carry wood for.
We’ve also been enjoying mushroom foraging - something I had never considered doing in Australia before. Thanks to the local knowledge of some new chef friends, we were told that some of the yummiest and most prolific wild mushrooms grow in the pine forests just over the mountain.
I sat on my hands for the first month or so waiting for the perfect opportunity and for all of the rain to come and go (we had a lot of rain). As soon as a clear, sunny Saturday popped up - and I had read and watched and asked enough to properly identify what was edible - we took the trip to the highlands in search of some saffron milk caps.
Jakob, Taj and I had the best day in the pine forest. The air was fresh, the walk was pleasant and there were more perfect milk caps on the forest floor than we could possibly fit into our baskets. There they sat with their golden gills, dimply tops and spotty, saffron sapped stems. Our haul quickly grew. We had come at a good time. Autumn at its finest. And we were rapt.
a note on mushroom foraging:
When it comes to wild mushrooms, only take what you know won’t kill you. Many are poisonous.
Simply - if in doubt, go without.
These saffron milk caps (also known as pine mushrooms) were found in the NSW Southern Highlands in Belanglo State forest. Their season is short - late March through May. Milk caps aren’t native to Australia – they arrived with the conifer trees, their symbiotic hosts. Mushrooms grow overnight so the best and freshest picking times are early to mid-morning shortly after autumn rain. To identify these mushrooms properly please do you research well or go with someone who knows what they are looking for.
picking and Storing:
Take a knife. It is best to cut wild mushrooms at their stem and then cover them with pine needles so that they grow back again next year. Pick mushrooms that are still fresh around their edges. As they age, they will become dry and wrinkly (still edible however). Saffron milk caps are very fragile, especially their gills, and will turn green if bumped around too much (again, still entirely edible, just a little strange looking). Store cap down and stem up in a paper bag or a covered glass container and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. If your bounty is grand – slice and fry them up with a little butter and store them in sealed bags in the freezer. These mushrooms are full of water and hold their moisture well so they will defrost with little effort and little change to their flavour.
Saffron milk caps can be eaten raw. They are also delicious on toast (see recipe above) or baked with eggs, in pasta’s, in soups, in gratins etc.
A fun fact/warning – this mushroom’s intense saffron hue will turn your urine a saffron colour too!
a recipe for saffron milk caps