Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mushroom Memories

That's not a mushroom you say. Well, no it's a slice of Tasmanian truffle atop truffle ice-cream, but when I started mushrooming truffles came from Perigord and Umbria not Plenty and Deloraine.

Mushrooms and Mother's Day are associated in my food memory not just because my mother taught me where to find mushrooms and which ones to pick but because the best one always seemed to mysteriously appear overnight around the second Sunday in May.

We would scour the paddocks on dewy mornings and hunt for perfect specimens which would become breakfast, pan fried in yellow farm butter with a large handful of parsley and a pinch of black pepper thrown in to the pan as the mushrooms softened and turned golden brown. Later my brother Tony, a chef, taught me to speed the process up with a generous splash of white wine reduced as the parsley was added, by then Italian parsley of course.

I discovered one of my favorite mushroom recipes in the early years of my marriage after Mary and I had eaten with Fredy Giradet in Switzerland - the first 3 Michelin starred chef outside France. That lunch at Crissier near Lausanne was one of the best meals I have ever eaten and has a tale associated with it worth telling sometime. However for the moment it suffices to say that when I later purchased Giradet's cookbook it came with a free book by Nathalie Hambro called Particular Delights. The recipe to which I refer is Hambro's Steamed Horse -Mushrooms and the dish is accompanied by small new potatoes, steamed in their skins and seved with a sesame sauce.
The method is to spoon sour cream into each mushroom, dribble a few drops of sesame oil, dust with Hungarian paprika and salt and pepper and steam for 5-7 minutes in a bamboo steamer.

These days Tasmania boasts a wonderful array of cultured mushrooms from Huon browns to oyster mushrooms, shitakes, wood - ears, and inokes. In winter when Mary and I have Thursday dinners for our friends I often butterfly medallions of eye fillet, saute potatoes with garlic and parsley and pan toss a melange of two or three different types of mushroom. A marvelous meal when preceded by onion soup with gruyere croutes and followed by a large dish creme caramel.

Artist and chef Tom Samek is an authority on edible wild mushrooms and has a signature dish of slippery-jack souffle which he makes from this delicacy which he conjures up from under pine trees at his hideaway near Franklin. He cooked it at home for me at a dinner on my birthday last year. Tom cooked again in my kitchen a few weeks ago and we paired wild duck with large slices of a huge horse mushroom which was so meaty it matched the gaminess of the duck beautifully. Especially when washed down with a Volnay Champans Premier Cru and a Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-Du-Pape.

Truffles are not your average mushroom I know but the fledgling Tasmanian industry will produce 200 odd kilos this year and many acres are now planted all over the State with inoculated hazelnut trees and deciduous oaks and more recently the evergreen, ilex oak trees.

Mary and I were lucky enough to attend 3 truffle dinners this season at the Wursthaus Kitchen cooked by Simon Webster, at Glencoe Rural Retreat cooked by Remi Bancal and at the Agrarian Kitchen cooked by Rodney Dunn and Katheryn Wakefield. We had truffled dishes as diverse as Coquilles St Jacques, Tasmanian rock lobster with foie gras and Chicken in Mourning. The most amazing discovery of the truffle season was however a red wine. Dirk Meure's 2004 D'Meure Pinot Noir is an amazing wine and in my view one of the finest produced in Tasmania. Matched with Rodney Dunn's Chicken in Mourning, Dirk's naturally produced pinot actually reduced me to tears. The agrarian philosophy of Rodney and Severine's kitchen farm matched that of Dirk's vineyard uniquely and movingly.

Amazing how food has developed in this little State of ours since my early mushrooming days. And to think my Mum told me never to pick the mushrooms from under pine trees. Tom!


  1. WOW!!! Surely, this is the beginning of a fabulous book Stephen. It is wonderful to read, although it does make me INSANELY jealous! To be able to eat such fabulous produce & create such tasty dishes would be a dream come true. One day.....

  2. PS: I suppose the cooking part is not such a problem for me just some of the ingredients :)


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