Mr Wilmot and I love a good free-food forage, but what could be better than having a supply of mushrooms in our own home? We mused upon this prospect last spring, after meeting a delightful mushroom farmer in a market in Bath, who almost agreed to take me on as an apprentice. His infectious enthusiasm for the profession (combined with his amazing hat and even more amazing variety of produce) seemed to entice me towards a simple existence cultivating fungi.
This, combined with the risk of fatal poisoning wild foraging presented, made me more determined to try and grown my own. But as a summer of elderflower-related distractions came and went, and autumn brought with it new experiments with rosehip syrup, I’d almost forgotten about the mushroom farming dream come winter. Until, lo and behold, a “mushroom kit” arrived on the doorstep shortly after Christmas; Mr Wilmot was keen to put our vague musings into action.
Chestnut, white button and shiitake varieties were waiting, to be covered with soil before being transferred to a warm, dark boiler cupboard. Attending to moisture levels regularly, we waited for the mycelium to grow through the soil, and for the tiny mushrooms to appear at the tray edges. A watched mushroom tray never sprouts, and after what seemed like weeks of wondering what we’d done wrong, suddenly the silky smooth chestnut caps appeared and ballooned, and the tray on the windowsill started sprouting shiitake practically overnight, which grew larger, it seemed, by the hour.
Our minds soon turned to what to do with these home-grown delicacies. It would have been rude not to attempt my favourite of all creations, the mighty mushroom risotto, but it was the simple stir fry that surprised us most. In absence of white wine for the risotto, a good slug of rich port gave it an almost magical pale purple colour, and the shiitake (added fairly near the end, after ladlefuls of stock) gave it a delicious flavour. To recreate the risotto, you’ll need:
Arborio risotto rice (a large mug’s worth will feed 1 giant or two little ladies)
A few shallots
A small glass of port
A sprinkle of tarragon
A stock of vegan Swiss marigold bouillon, with a big teaspoon of miso brown rice paste mixed in (a good few teacups worth will be needed, depending on the quantity of rice)
A big handful of shiitake mushrooms
Half an aubergine (or whatever else you have to bulk it up a bit)
Chop the shallots finely and sweat in butter for a few minutes, before adding the Arborio until the grains become translucent. Add port and leave to simmer until adsorbed, before turning the heat down and addling ladlefuls of stock one by one, stirring frequently. Continue stirring and ladling for twenty minutes, before adding shiitake, diced aubergine and tarragon for the last ten to fifteen minutes of cooking time. Try to leave the pan to rest a few minutes before serving, but don’t expect hungry boys to wait!
For the simple stir-fry, we combined the chestnut mushrooms with celery, broccoli, lemon juice, creamed coconut, tahini, light soy sauce and miso paste, to create a fragrant yet subtle medley of flavours. Served with light noodles it’s an almost virtuous health-giving feast for winter nights. Mushroom fans take note – cultivating these perfectly formed little beauties was so effortless it made our fairly easy-going vegetable patch seem like hard graft. There’s really nothing quite like eating your own home-grown ‘shrooms.