HIDDEN VALLEY: The subtle and mysterious art of mushrooming in central Spain

In the latest serialisation of seasoned travel writer Paul Richardson’s new book, Hidden Valley, he reveals how he spots the perfect wild mushroom in the forests by his idyllic home in Extremadura – and how to cook them

IN the damp afternoon after a rain shower I go to the woods to walk, and also to forage for wild fungi.

Mushrooming is a subtle and mysterious art. The mental attitude required is a via negativa, a not-wanting-too-much, a not-looking-too-hard.

Synoptic vision, casting your whole eye over an expanse of ground, ready to pick up the signals, the curve of the cap, the colour a shade or two away from the surrounding variants of brown, a fungal aroma your nose detects.

When you see one there’s a tiny charge of pleasure in the brain, like the dopamine hit a new email in your inbox is meant to produce.

It’s a knowing before you even really know; a prescience. Or perhaps a reverse déjà vu: you imagine you knew it was there, how could it not have been?

The tell-tale way the mushroom has pushed up the leaf layer then again, you’ve poked carefully with a stick or your foot at dozens of such tell-tale liftings and found nothing underneath but a tussock of grass that has pushed through a wodge of dry leaves and raised it slightly, and even as you did so something told you it was a waste of time, so there’s hardly a cast-iron logic there.

Yet this time it’s textbook. The hard, round cap the russet brown of a Hovis loaf; the thick bulbous stem white as marble.

When your fingers reach around that cool, dry pillar, that’s when you know you’ve found your perfect Boletus edulis. That’s the first satisfaction.

The second comes soon after, bundled up with the first. I like them best baked with potato and garlic, with buttered eggs, a rich autumnal rice with rabbit and pumpkin, and raw in carpaccio-thin slices dribbled with olive oil and scattered with parmesan. 

Tonight Nacho makes a salad in the scattergun inventive manner of his cooking, and it’s a palpable hit.

Peppery rocket and carrot julienne and crisp sweet apple and shavings of raw cep, which imbue the dish with their insinuating perfume; a memory of damp leaf mulch; a whisper from the woods.

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