Last week, some of our guests spotted people pulling crayfish (US: crawfish) out of the lake in nearby Lanquais. So they went back, armed with a chicken drumstick and a bucket, and pulled out about 60 in a few minutes. Unfortunately for our guests, they went out for dinner that night, which meant we got to eat them all ourselves!

First, I found this very useful picture story by George Monbiot on how to make a crawfish (UK: crayfish) net and how to cook them, then had a go myself. As these were quite small, I went for ten at a time for about five minutes in quite salty water. Here’s the before, during and after shot:


Shelling took a while and you do end up with lots of waste – but you also have a delicious, ethical, foraged, restaurant-quality feast. Prawns have been almost completely off the menu for a few years for us, which is a shame because we love them. But these taste almost as good and we’ll be eating them again as often as we can. (For this first attempt, I fried the tails lightly in garlic butter, with a dash of lemon juice, and stirred them into pasta.)

Highly recommended – and many thanks to Tim, Janine and the boys for fishing them out for us.

Here’s another suggestion for the recipe section of my never-to-be-written-or-read book entitled: “Embracing Austerity”.

Take four parasol mushrooms from a nearby field (having checked to make sure they will not kill you), fry for a few minutes in shop-bought butter with home-grown garlic, add some home-grown chilli and a sprinkle of shop-bought mixed herbs, and season with shop-bought salt and pepper. Meanwhile bring a pan of utility company provided water to the boil, add a large pinch of salt and drop in some leftover home-made pasta. Boil for a few minutes, during which pour a little shop-bought cream into the mushrooms.

Plate up the pasta, spoon on the mushies, grate some shop-bought parmesan and black pepper and finish with some home-grown basil. It should look like this:

We reckoned, excluding the cost of gas and lighting, each plate cost about 10 cents. Obviously, if you have a milk-producing animal you can make it for almost nothing. We’d have been happy to pay €8.95 in a restaurant – and would definitely have gone back.


I forgot to mention this earlier. You must put a few drops of lemon juice in the sauce at the end of cooking. You won’t believe how much it brings out the taste of the mushrooms.

There was a gunshot earlier, a bit close for comfort, so I went down the hill to see if I could catch myself a hunter. I didn’t see him (almost certainly a ‘him’), but I did find that Coulemelle season is upon us!

Obviously, I had to fill a large bag with nature’s bounty…

…which I started processing immediately…

(The wine bottle is there for scale.) The mushrooms on the board went into two batches in a wok, cooked in the same way I described in this post. I ended up with all this…

…for the cost of some mixed herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil. Good for a month of Sunday supper times by following this recipe, stolen from a pub in North London:

1) Reheat the mushrooms, adding a chilli or two

2) Make some toast

3) Add cream to the mushrooms

4) Butter the toast

5) Lay some wild rocket on the toast and pour the mushrooms on top

6) Shave parmesan onto the mushrooms and finish with ground black pepper

It takes a few minutes, costs almost nothing and tastes as good as it sounds.

So our mushroom experiments began with the funky looking helvella crispa as described immediately below. Some time later, a trusted neighbour introduced us to the Coulemelle (Parasol Mushroom in English, macrolepiota procera in Biology) seen in a post well below that. Then we tried the also-impossible-to-mistake coprinus comatus (Shaggy Ink Cap, Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Mane) and thought we were doing pretty well, adding one mushroom a year to our diet.

Then 2011 happened. Our first new mushroom of the year was this beauty:

In English it’s called the Beefsteak Fungus (in French, the Beef Tongue, which looks more accurate and, in Latin, fistulina helpatica). Again we checked with our books and pharmacist and we were blessed with finding a textbook example to make it easier to swallow. I now check the base of every tree I pass on the off-chance I’ll spot another, which slows down my walks through the woods – another bonus.

And a few weeks ago, a former neighbour told me about the rosé des prés (Field Mushroom in English, Meadow Mushroom in American, agaricus campestris in Latin) which immediately became Our Favourite Mushroom. A small one, freshly picked, entirely dominates whatever you put it in – and this morning I came back from feeding the animals with two, plus a half dozen Elfin Saddles.

Got to love the rain.

Eating foraged mushrooms is an unnerving experience – especially the first time – very especially when you have young children who couldn’t fend for themselves if you fell dead into your risotto. Which is why we only eat mushrooms that cannot be confused with anything else.

Like this one.

It’s called Helvella crispa (or White Saddle, Elfin Saddle or Common Helvel for short) and is the wildest looking wild mushroom you’re ever likely to pick. It can’t be eaten raw and is a bit of a pain to clean, but well worth the effort.

It’s actually the first wild mushroom we ever ate.

First we looked it up in two mushroom books, which are both in French to add room for error. Then we took it to a pharmacist trained to give safety advice on mushrooms, who didn’t recognise it (a bit of a worry there) and had to call us back to confirm its edibility (which is a word I’ve never written before). Finally we ate it, probably on toast with some cream – and lived to write the blog.

Ever since, we’ve waited for it to appear on the same patch of drive, never knowing exactly when that will be. One year a wild boar got to them before we did (presumably the don’t-eat-raw law doesn’t apply to them) but yesterday I made a momentous discovery while chasing another hunting dog. There’s a second patch of them in the old pig area.

Or at least there was until just before dinner last night. Yum.

November 5th 2011 is Coulemelle Day.

Coulemelle, also known as the Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera to Latin readers), is one of the few mushrooms we know we can eat. We were introduced to it by a neighbour a few years ago and, after checking two books and discovering it can’t be confused with other mushrooms due to its size, we look forward to it every year.

Calendar watchers will want to know that it arrived on November 4th 2009:

And on September 22nd 2010:

Here’s a quick recipe to celebrate this year’s magical free food day, which will extend our enjoyment by three months (if we can leave them in the freezer that long).

Bag yourself some mushies from the field. (5 mins)

Tear into bits and make a pile. (10 mins)

Put a batch in a hot wok with oil and butter. (5 secs)

Sautée. (less than 5 mins)

Put on a plate to cool. (3 secs)

Bag up, freeze and repeat while crops last. (Only a few days)