Wild mushroom and pancetta soup (with added porcini and heaps of Bruny Island Pepper)
One of my favourite things in life is tackling the whole process of making a meal from scratch, especially taking joy in the sourcing of ingredients (not saucing…although that can be fun too). It’s not just a matter of going to the fridge and grabbing the required ingredients that’s a bit dull don’t you think, I like something much more fulfilling, and foraging fills that need. The most enjoyable parts are the longing for the change in season, the first hints of weather change, then the strapping on of leather boots, driving somewhere beautiful and most importantly sharing the experience with someone you love.
Summer seems to be hanging on like a hollywood cliff hanger. The night sky is clear and the temperature drops, the days start cool but the sun still has enough warmth in it to work up a sweet on your brow playing in the garden. Not that I’ve been spending a great deal of time in the garden. Instead I’ve been out with my manly woven baskets under my arm, prancing in the forests looking down for autumn goodies, mostly in the form of mushrooms and nuts (walnuts and chestnuts).
The weather hasn’t yet convinced me that the season has changed completely, and the reason for this theory is that the wild mushrooms are still very much in sporadic distribution. They’re mostly found in gully’s and drainage ruts where the soil is moist and the sunlight dappled. In spots that get direct sun the mushrooms are yet to appear, but when they do come when it cools down they come in large numbers and hang around for many months providing and endless supply of autumn culinary treasure.
My tomato crop is at it’s end, even though we’re still getting plenty of sunny days it’s just not hot enough to ripen the remaining fruit on the vine. So I’ve moved from tomato bruschetta for breakfast to wild mushrooms and chorizo cooked in a white wine garlic sauce. It’s such a treat that I look forward to at the end of each summer. When we get little patches of cool weather I can’t help but jump in the old jeep and wander through the forests checking my secret spots for any hint of the Saffron Milk Cap or the Slippery Jacks. Either one will do. In a few months time I’ll once again tire of the seasonal glut and move onto the next most abundant item. But for now I relish every mushroom meal. It’s autumn on my plate.
Please don’t forage for mushrooms if you’re unsure what species they are. These two are unknown to me so I don’t pick them. I follow the rule, never pick anything that you don’t know 110% way it is.
The inevitable season change has come and my summer veg is looking a little worse for wear. The extra moisture and cool temperature have turned my lovely looking zucchini plants into a pile of sad sack rubbish looking foliage. They’re covered in a mildew substance yet to be identified (don’t really care what and please don’t tell me if you know what it is as I like living with mystery) and the large jungle size leaves are now a pale white.
I plucked the last few zucchini and made an ultra evil cheesy pasta with Philly cream, peppered peccorino, white wine, smoked eel, lemon, pine nuts and fresh basil.
We’ve had a good supply of zucchini over summer, that we’ve grown in our little cottage garden and now it’s time to pull up the sad looking plants and pop in some winter veg.
Oh and this dish works well with plenty of cracked Tasmanian Mountain pepper…not that everyone is as lucky as I am to have access to it but a lovely friend got me some hand picked off a hillside somewhere in Tasmania.
We’ve just had a cold snap, the weather turned from late summer to winter in a matter of days. We don’t really have a long summer here and the last few seem to be shorter than usual. But thats weather, it’s always changing.
With the cold weather I decided it was time to start hunting rabbits again. They breed in late winter and plenty of young rabbits skip around and grow happily feeding on the lush green grass of summer. There sure hasn’t been a lack of moisture, and that, with the sunlight of summer, has kept the food supply plentiful this season. Over summer I tend to focus on growing vegetables and fly fishing more so than spending time hunting small game. The combination of long grass and venomous snakes are kind of off putting, especially when most of my hunting is done in the darkness of night, when the rabbits are most active. I don’t actually mind snakes, I respect them, but there is always the chance of stepping on one accidentally and receiving a nasty ‘fuck you dude’ bite on the leg. And seeing that I often hunt alone…this is not such a cool way to end a hunting night.
The cool change in weather convinced me that it was time so get out there again so I packed my gun, grabbed plenty of rounds and drove the Jeep out to one of my most loved spots, a private property 30 minutes north of our little cottage. I was hoping to bag a few rabbits with the idea of poaching the meat to use on saturday night pizzas, I had fingers crossed. The wind was calm, in fact there was almost no wind, which sometimes I think works against me. The noise of my every move seems to ripple through the grass. They must hear me coming a mile away. Yet somehow I still manage to sneak up to get a clean shot. It’s all about patience, this hunting game. Oh that and having keen senses and good observational skills helps too. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t notice that the next door neighbours house has been repainted a different colour then I recommend you avoid hunting. You need to stop often, take in everything around you. Your eyes need to scan across the landscape taking in anything that moves or seems out of place. There are plenty of distractions; the flutter of birds, the movement of dragonfly or the noise of an inquisitive possum out for a feed. I had all these distractions the other night.
Eventually the dashing spot of white tail and dim grey shape of a bunny hops from one spot to another. They’re so well camouflaged, especially at dusk when the light is poor. Often I’ll sit down and wait for that moment to pass and I’ll wait to welcome the darkness, that’s when I can cheat. I have a powerful hunting torch that gives up the location of a rabbit very easily making the job much more efficient. It didn’t take me long to realise that I was well out of practice with the rifle, I missed about 5 to poor shooting. By the end of the cool season after I’ve been hunting at night for months, I can usually load a round into the chamber, bring the scope to the eye and get a clean shot in seconds. But I’m rusty right now. I’ve been spending too much time digging soil and sitting in front of a monitor writing. Give me a few months back in the real world and I’ll be back in form. On this night I managed to bag two healthy rabbits. Not too old not to young. Just perfect for cooking.
The night was clear, with satellites zooming across the sky and constellations amazing me with their intense beauty. It was surprisingly mild and I wondered how many snakes were wandering around with me that I hadn’t noticed. Plenty I bet. The grass was long and dry and the seed heads often stuck to my clothes as I brushed past them. This got me thinking about seed collecting back at the veg patch for those plants that I’d allowed to go to seed. I really ought to start planning for the cool season plantings too. I haven’t even planted purple broccoli yet! Shit! So much needs to be planted for winter!
After a few hours wandering around in the dark I decided it had been as successful a hunt as I could have wanted. I hiked back over my tracks, across the creek and back into the patch of bush where I’d parked the Jeep. On the way home, my window open, I pondered my night. I was happy to be out again.