Fungi Foray

June 26, 2010


Father’s Day dawned gloriously with perfect mushrooming weather – a crisp, clear morning after half a week of soaking rains. More than thirty slowfooders of all ages joined us to forage for fungi at the Tokai Arboretum in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. We were lead by the knowledgeable Dr Nicky Allsopp, who has a background in ecology and plant ecophysiology, and is a mushroom expert and enthusiast.
Dr Nicky Allsopp describing mushrooms in Tokai Arboretum

Dr Nicky Allsopp tells us that pretty much all of these mushrooms are inedible...

Instead of simply searching for mushrooms to eat, we were dispatched to go and find samples of as many different mushrooms as we could, which we would then bring back to Nicky for identification. The Arboretum is the perfect place to find a variety of fungi – it was established as a nursery to test the viability of various trees in our climate. The saplings that were planted were usually brought from overseas in the clump of soil they were growing in, soil full of different spores.
A family hunting mushroms with Slow Food Mother City

Exciting finds for kids of all ages!

Off we tramped into the forest… Some people were lucky within minutes; some got competitive; some wandered aimlessly, questioning their eyesight; others became engrossed in one mushroom through their camera lenses; and a few ran wild, screaming “Mushrooms! Mushrooms!” (the little ones, you’ll be relieved to know).
Tiny mushroom

Look sharp - it can be easy to miss perfect specimens

We brought back a wide range of fungi, ranging in colour from bright orange to purple to white; in shape from “Smurf houses” to flat-topped to puffballs. The truth is, mushrooming is not for sissies. Quite a few were poisonous, with effects ranging from hallucinations to vomiting to liquefying of internal organs (hmmmm…). Books can help you identify these toadstool terrors.  If you find a copy of this pick it up, it’s a classic:
A Field Guide to the Mushrooms of South Africa by Levin et al (image from
RandomHouseStruik publishers will be releasing a new Pocket Guide to Mushrooms that will cover about 100 species in late 2010.
Mushrooms with white gills are usually poisonous in the Western Cape

White gills - be afraid...

Tips for newbies: In the Western Cape, most mushrooms with white gills are poisonous. Also look out for a ‘veil’ on the stem and large bulge at the root of the stem – also signs that a mushroom is probably toxic.
A selection of mushrooms collected in Tokai Arboretu in June 2010

Rainbow fungi nation!

A few were not poisonous, but not nice to eat, such as the purple-topped russula. Porcupines love it, but the few people who dared to taste a sliver of russula-gill declared it “more hectic than wasabi”!
Pine rings foraged in Tokai, Cape Town, June 2010

Yum! Yes, you can eat pine rings.

However, a couple of Tokai mushrooms are delicious to eat. The porcinis (also called ceps or boletus) with their easily identifiable yellow spongy pores (instead of gills) and the orange pine rings with their distinctive green patina and indents on the stem, are the two most common. The best way to eat them, as with most mushrooms, is to slice them, fry them in some butter (maybe with some garlic and a few herbs), season them and eat them on toast. Their meaty umami flavor also goes well with the buttery nuttiness of avocado, also in season in June.
Mushroom soup after the mushroom forage

Mushroom soup - hot from the boot!

We rounded off an informative and invigorating morning with mushroom soup served in the parking lot. (Hot boxes are awesome, by the way.) Slowfooders loved the day. Alice and Pat said: “Many thanks for organising such an enjoyable fungal foray today! We just loved it, and the good company.”
Wellington boots for mushrooming

Mushrooming meets high fashion

And, as Slow Food Mother City committee member Pia Taylor points out on her blog post on the event: “As long as those who forage do so without having to take everything all at once (or destroying the things they don’t like), we should (in theory) be able to share this incredible natural resource indefinitely.” That’s truly sustainable eating.

If you’d like Dr Nicky Allsopp to help you identify a mushroom you’ve found, e-mail a photo of it to her.

Mushroom soup recipe

Serves 4

25g butter
1 large leek, white part only, sliced
400g brown and/or Portobello mushrooms, chopped
2 tbls flour (or brown lentils)
100ml red wine, sherry or brandy
Squeeze of lemon juice (about ¼ of a lemon)
½ tsp dried thyme and/or rosemary
10g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 250ml warm water
750ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
50ml sour cream (optional)

1. Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 250ml warm water for about half an hour.
2. Fry the leek gently in the butter until soft, then add the mushrooms and allow to cook down for a few minutes.
3. Add the flour. You can also use brown lentils to thicken the soup, and they’ll enhance the mushrooms’ nutty flavor.
4. Add the booze and cook for a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
5. Add a large squeeze of lemon and the herbs, and stir for a minute or two, then add the porcini mushrooms with their liquid.
6. Add the stock, bring soup to the boil, turn the heat down, and then simmer for 20 minutes.
7. Take the soup off the heat, puree until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
8. Stir in the cream, if using (you can also substitute milk for some of the stock if you want a creamier soup). Gently reheat the soup. Serve with buttered seed bread.

Ruffled mushroom popping up from the leaf litter

A ruffled mushroom (not poisonous!) popping up from the leaf litter

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