Sunday, August 24, 2008

Flodden, Fungi and Food in the Lammermuir Hills

Yesterday I decided to spend a little time walking over the hills looking for the site of a long gone group of houses called Ellemside. I've got an 18th Century map which shows it, but it's not up to the standards of the Ordnance Survey and so its precise position is up for debate. I thought the farmer had harvested his barley, but he'd only done half of the field and so my searching was somewhat abortive. I'm interested because a few days before the battle of Flodden in 1513, on this weekend 495 years ago, the Scots army mustered at Ellem and King James IV, "stayed in a house at Ellem" - it could perhaps be one of the houses at what was called Ellemside. So there I was metal detector in one hand, my spade in the other heading off down the hill toward the river valley; apart from finding a Victorian brass dog whistle it was all fairly fruitless. As I got closer to the valley I saw that the barley field ended and there was a field of grass; closer still I spotted what looked like mushrooms, on closer inspection I decided they were. Now, having once been on a fungi foray with a mycologist my fears of picking mushrooms to eat have been heightened rather than reduced.

There was nothing else for it - Dave was the answer. I knew he was working on a piece of wood sculpture in his studio at the old sawmill so I headed off to him to get him to come with me for some formal identification. I admit I did this with some trepidation as Dave, on at least once occasion, has had his lips turn blue from eating dodgy mushrooms. "They're definitely field mushrooms,” announced Dave as he sliced one off its base and took a bite. I watched for his lips to turn blue - fortunately they didn't. The two off us set about picking two large shop scale weighing pans of the beautiful mushrooms. Dave explained that it was important to cut them from their bases to leave the spores in the ground so that more would come. There was even a 'fairy ring' of little brown mushrooms; Dave cut a couple to check in his mushroom book as to their edibility.

With my 5 lbs of mushrooms I headed home, dropped Dave off to continue his sculpture, and thought about what to do. His idea was mushroom soup; I've never made it but after checking two or three cookery books I found several recipes. I decided to combine the best bits from several and ended up with ten or so servings of delicious mushroom and pancetta soup - it's in the freezer. There's enough mushrooms left for us to have risotto tonight. It will be a meal fit for a Scot’s King.

16 comments:

Colin Campbell said...

Great story Richard. I love the idea of being able to pick food from nature. I always warn our kids about eating mushrooms. Glad that you were able to make soup. Mushroom soup is difficult to make well.

Dragonstar said...

So you had a good day! Fresh mushrooms are really tasty, a treasure worth finding.

CherryPie said...

A nice walk followed by freshly picked mushrooms, what more could you ask for?

r morris said...

You may really be onto something with Ellem. Make sure you go back after harvest and see what you can find. That's an exciting possibility.
As to the mushrooms, just another example of serendipidy at work.

The Lakelander said...

There's nothing like freshly picked food from your own back yard is there?

Our little damson tree yielded 7 lbs of fruit yesterday morning.

By the evening, it had been turned into damson jam, which we had on toast for breakfast this morning.

That's my sort of "fast food"!

Richard Havers said...

The mere mention of Damson jam makes me come over all Victorian! Sounds great.

leslie said...

Hi Richard, thanks for coming over to my site - you're welcome any time. Mushroom soup made from mushrooms picked out in the field - YUM! :D

Ellee Seymour said...

I make mushroom soup sometimes, but I think yours will taste richer. You could also try mushroom quiche or pizza too, as well as risotto.
I've put on half a stone just drooling over them!

The Lakelander said...

Richard,

E-mail me your postal address (as per my Blogger profile) and I'll be happy to post you a jar of Dr Lakelander's home-made damson jam.

r morris said...

Hi Dr. Lakelander. How much to post to Idaho, USA?
;)

The Lakelander said...

R Morris:

"Dr Lakelander" is actually my wife.

I'm sure she'd be happy to send you a jar, but our past experience of those vigilant US Customs officers is that they're not very keen on anyone importing food.

I think most of them have an obsession with cooked meat, but maybe that's just my aftershave!

jams o donnell said...

WHat a beautiful scene... and a load of mushrooms too? Bliss!

Selena Dreamy said...

Gosh, Richard, you have a knack of making me feel homesick for England, even though I happen to live in the very heart of it - I love collecting mushrooms, though it's the blueberries that keep me busy at the moment...

Liz said...

Everybody needs a dave.

Richard Havers said...

Liz, you are so right!

Dreamy, we have three blueberry bushes and Mrs.H. is looking to buy some more. Blueberries go very well with home made vanilla yoghurt and granola.

I once spent an hour arguing with US customs over a jar of piccalilli!

To everyone, its just amazing how evocative mushrooms are for us all. Is it the collecting of them for free?

sally in norfolk said...

what a fantastic find... never seem to find any here :-(