School holidays present all manner of challenges for parents…perhaps the biggest challenge of all is how to keep the kids occupied in a healthy fashion, without relying too heavily on technical intervention (foxtel/ipads).
I was keen to find something outdoorsy and a bit unique to keep my two busy for a day, and in my googling, came across a foraging excursion. The timing however didn’t suit, and it was more geared towards adults, so I tracked down the guy in charge of the forage, and asked if he’d be keen to take a private group, made up of our school friends and their folks. He was!
Our professional forager and guide was Brendan Cato, a chef (Seans Panaroma and Bistro Moncur are both on his CV, as well as stints on the super yacht circuit) who switched life in a professional kitchen for an approach more in tune with the environment, cooking seasonal, locally sourced, sustainable and organic pop-ups as The Farmed Table.
We meet bright and early on a beautiful autumns morning at the entrance to Belanglo, under the ominous sign, that asks that you “please be careful”. Poor Belanglo gets a bad rap because of it’s ‘shady’ history… (sadly famous for Ivan Milat and the Backpacker murders)
It is a planted forest, primarily of pines, but has native bush interspersed, with random rocky outcrops and termite mounds jutting out in the midst of the perfect pine rows. Light struggles to filter down through the huge trees, the effect is eerie yet beautiful, and is perfect for funghi growth in amongst the needles. Brendan leads our convoy to his secret spots, and instructs us which mushrooms are safe to pick, and which to leave alone. (We were after Pine mushrooms and slippery jacks.)
The kids loved it! There are tree stumps to climb and hide behind, pretty speckled red mushrooms to poke and prod, but leave alone (red = poisonous!), wombat burrows, and when we find bones, the kids lose it! Not human remains…what we imagine to be wallaby skeletons. We let them keep some for show and tell once school starts again. Gross. (but also SO cool at the same time!)
After a few hours collecting at several locations, Brendan returns to base and sets up a campfire. We present our findings, which he sorts, discarding the dodgy ones, and gets the older kids to clean them for him to cook up. They go into a hot pan with olive oil/butter and garlic. The smell is PHENOMENAL! He pours us a glass of local red as a reward for our efforts, and offers us a snack of humous he has knocked up the night before whilst we wait, then presents the mushrooms to us on bread he baked that morning! There is nothing quite like eating something that was growing in the ground not even a half hour before…DELICIOUS!
The season for Pine & Slippery Jacks is short, perhaps 5 weeks or so in late April- early June. In the interest of safety, you MUST only forage with someone knowledgeable in funghi! There are many mushies that look safe, and indeed delicious, but can send you straight to hospital, or worse!
It’s good to be aware that some of the roads in the forest are best suited to larger vehicles, as they uneven and steep in parts; my low profile hatchback was not super impressed by this!
Belanglo is a 90 minute drive south of Sydney, just south of Berrima.
Thank you to Jessie, Ginie, Sohani and Lin not only for loaning me your beautiful kids, but also for taking beautiful pics x