Mushroom expert Patrick Leonard knows his mushrooms.
Mushroom expert Patrick Leonard knows his mushrooms. john mccutcheon

Frypan for fungi field trips

IF YOU are thinking of heading outdoors for a day of wild mushroom picking, take along someone like Patrick Leonard.

He no doubt would come in handy in knowing the difference between edible and poisonous varieties. Patrick is a mycologist - someone who studies mushrooms - and Queensland Mycological Society acting president.

The society has more than 60 members, with many living on the Sunshine Coast, and Patrick and some of his colleagues are writing a book which will be an invaluable resource for collecting and describing mushrooms from the south-east Queensland region.

Patrick has gathered a wealth of information and knowledge in the world of fungi, after having picked mushrooms in many countries including France, Spain and Italy.

His passion began as a child growing up on a ranch in Argentina, where his father would take him out on picking expeditions.

They would travel by horse and cart and fill their load with mushrooms before returning home to cook some for dinner, and dry the rest outside on netting in the sun, to use throughout the year.

He said this father-and-son bonding time was very important to him and from it grew a lifelong interest in mushrooms.

Later in London in the '90s, Patrick began attending lectures on fungi and collecting varieties on field trips. He recalls weekend treks in the English countryside with fellow student Ray Mears, who has since become recognised throughout the world as an authority on bushcraft and survival.

While other students took their pocket-knives and notepads on the field trips, Ray would take a portable gas stove and a frying pan and, oblivious to the shock of his peers, would eat everything deemed edible.

To this day, no scientific test has been developed to determine whether a mushroom will be fatal if consumed, and it is left up to the brave or stupid to discover a culinary treat from new discoveries.

Here on the Sunshine Coast, Patrick regularly comes across edible species, including the wood ear mushroom, which is popular in many Asian-style dishes for its crisp, snappy texture and its colour rather than taste.

The hedgehog mushroom is also a local resident of Noosa - prized for its delicate hazelnut flavour and sweetly aromatic smell, with an inner flesh that is firm, bright and white.

For those in the know, the slippery jack mushroom is a popular find. But ask Patrick what his favourite eating experience with mushrooms is and a warm smile spreads across his face as he tells of picking some good old-fashioned field mushrooms.

"To go to a paddock and pick them in the early morning sunshine, fry them up with a bit of butter and bacon - nothing beats that," he said.

Patrick's mission is to expand on the knowledge of the species in Queensland and he can be found giving lectures at local restaurants or taking groups into the wilderness to experience the mushrooms up close. But if you need to play it safe, head to your local farmers' market and fill your basket with a bounty of milk caps, chanterelles and portabellos.

 

PATRICK'S BREAKFAST MUSHROOMS

This is best made using field mushrooms (agaricus campestris) picked early in the morning in a traditionally grazed dairy paddock. If you can't manage that, the next best thing is to buy your mushrooms from a specialist grower at a farmers' market. Yandina on a Saturday, or Fisherman's Rd or Noosa markets on a Sunday all have suitable mushrooms from local growers. Choose field mushrooms that are open, not buttons.

Ingredients:

  • 500g field mushrooms
  • 30g butter
  • 50g cream, thick but not clotted.
  • salt and pepper
  • nutmeg
  • organic bread for toast - one slice a person
  • dry cured streaky bacon or pancetta - two rashers a person

Method:

1. Keep the smaller mushrooms whole, slice really large ones and chop the stalks.

2. Fry bacon rashers in a frying pan until fat has run and then remove to a plate and keep warm.

3. Add butter to pan and toss in mushrooms, turn up heat and stir with a wooden spatula.

4. Keep stirring until juice runs from the gills.

5. Put toast on now. Add cream to mushrooms and juice in pan. Season with salt pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

The sauce should be the consistency of thin cream: if too thick, add milk.

Serving:

Place unbuttered toast on a warmed plate, one rasher of bacon each side. Place a good helping of mushrooms and sauce on the toast and serve.

This can also be used as party food by cutting the mushrooms into smaller slices and placing them with their sauce in little pastry cases.

 

MUSHROOM HEALTH

  • A 100g serving of mushrooms contains more dietary fibre (2.5g) than 100g of celery (1.8g) or a slice of wholemeal bread (2g)
  • Mushrooms contain more protein than most vegetables
  • A medium portabello mushroom contains more potassium than a banana
  • A 100g of raw mushrooms contains just 100 kilojoules
  • Mushrooms contain significant amounts of B-group vitamins, notably niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folate. Folate is especially important during the early stages of pregnancy.

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