19 June, 2021
Australians are travelling once more. However, with our slow local vaccination rate and the fear of new variants, such as the Delta variant, the prospect of overseas travel is receding. So, we are confined within Australia. ‘No worries,’ locals say, ‘It’s a vast country, and I have never been to Darwin/Margaret River/Townsville/Merimbula/Broome etc’. Airbnb and Stayz are reporting heavy bookings. Popular destinations are full for the 2021 school holidays. Costs are surging.
We secured a late July booking to fly to Port Douglas: the stunning Queensland coastal holiday town on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest. We found a modestly priced apartment months ago. I have been warned that Port Douglas restaurants are full for meals and that I need to pre-book our evening entertainment.
In reaction, some of our retired friends are planning on spending big: travelling the Ghan, Adelaide to Darwin ($4,200 aud, one way per person); a 10-night cruise around the Kimberley coast ($30,000 average pp not including helicopter flights); Lord Howe Island ($3,500 for 7 nights pp including flights). Maybe these months of Covid restrictions have made us realise that the remaining time to make such trips is dwindling fast. Will I get to Zanzibar once more? Capetown to see family? The Zululand game reserves? Yellowstone National Park? Sanibel island? The wish list feels like plans made after enjoying a bottle of Adelaide Hills sparkling wine.
Life here in Adelaide remains good. (Aussies love the word ‘good’. ‘How are you?’ The answer is ‘Good’. It’s like a check-up on your moral status). We await our second AstraZeneca vaccination scheduled for early July. Tonight, the government announced that the AZ would no longer be offered to under 60-year-olds. More cases of clotting have emerged. … called vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopaenia (VITT) or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). It is estimated that one in 80,000 is affected. That is enough to scare people, especially with the nightly news of yet another suspected case.
Meanwhile, I have been foraging. I love foraging. There is something childlike and primeval about searching and finding food in the fields. Figs are my favourite; they fruit at the end of summer – February and March. We have a generous neighbour with many trees. This year, I also gathered plums, loquats, Chinese guavas, white sapotes, cumquats and last week, fungi.
With the arrival of soaking winter rain – a month late – the fungi have fruited. I heard that pine mushrooms or saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) were plentiful in the Kuipo pine forests in the Adelaide Hills. Pine mushrooms are easy to identify, and there are few deadly look-alikes. It does help to have the latest book on fungi. I have Wild Mushrooms, a Guide for Foragers, by Alison Pouliot & Tom May, given to me by my Seattle daughter, a mycologist in her spare time. But it is wise to be warned, to be cautious and to observe simple collection rules: have separate packets for each species and not to collect what you don’t know.
The towering forests of mature Pinus radiata are not my favourite wild places. The undergrowth is sparse, and these forests don’t support our native birds and marsupials. But some fungi prosper there.
As the three of us began our hunt – and I had little clue about how numerous these delicious fungi were or how cryptic they would be – we met a local Chinese family who were staggering homeward with a large laundry basket full of pine mushrooms.
They pointed vaguely behind them into the depth of the woods. ‘There are many there. Five hundred metres away,’ they said.
Looking at their heavy basket, I wondered if they had left ‘many’. They made it sound easy: it was not. At first, we found nothing but luminous red and orange fungi and masses of large, slimy ‘slippery jacks’ (Suillus luteus), which form a symbiotic relationship with pine tree roots. My Wild Mushroom book says this about slippery-jacks, ‘Their slimy nature is revered by some and repulses others.’
The three of us walked in loops, searching the pine needles covering the ground. My daughter said, ‘Explore lumps and bumps in the pine needle ground.’ I think you develop an ‘eye’ for spotting fungi and we were beginners. We were not concerned about getting lost once we realised that our mobile phones still worked. As we turned for home, we struck lucky and collected about two kilos of the saffron pine fungi. I also gathered a few slippery jacks as my daughter told me that Russian people rave over these fungi. Later I found an interesting recipe for a slippery jack cabbage soup with beans and a dash of vodka. This recipe sounded like a perfect plan for a winter evening.
There is something so very pleasurable about hunting for fungi. With full baskets at our feet, the three of us sat on logs, drank hot peppermint tea and ate cheese and biscuits while watching the friendly grey fantails and superb blue wrens.
Neither of my friends wanted to cook our saffron milk caps, so I took them all home and researched their preparation.
I made pine mushroom soup, pasta sauce and an omelette with mushroom filling. The slippery jacks are more challenging as the slimy pileus can give some people dermatitis. I stripped off this surface skin and removed the puffy spore layer, although some recipes do not suggest removing the pores. I was left with a creamy circle of flesh. I fried them with the pine mushrooms. They were delicious.
It was a memorable day of successful foraging.