Dear Hi-Tec Family, kindly see our Festive Season Closure Notice.

May 12, 2016

I bundle the dogs into the car and drive up to Cecilia Forest to meet Gary Goldman, aka The Mushroom Hunter. On the face of it we look like just another pair dog-walkers but we’re here for far more than the crisp morning air…

Gary knows more about mushroom foraging in Cape Town than anyone, but it wasn’t always this way. A high-octane career in IT resulted in burn-out and a heart attack. Gary quit the rat-race, became a stay-at-home dad, and took long walks on Table Mountain, as prescribed by his cardiologist. On one of these walks Gary found some mushrooms and his first thought was “Can I eat them?”
 
He went to the library and took out all the mushroom books he could find. His mountain walks grew more frequent (his doctor wasn’t complaining) and he started to learn where to look for mushrooms and which ones he could eat. “I’ve never poisoned myself,” explains Gary, “And I never will. I only eat something when I am 100% certain that I know what it is.”
 
Before long Gary was collecting more mushrooms than he could possibly consume, and he began to supply restaurants and friends with fresh wild mushrooms. He wasn’t just getting something for free, he had inadvertently started a new career…
 
“In season I go foraging every day. I’m in the forest before the sun rises, and on week days I have it pretty much to myself. But on weekends there are other mushroom hunters. Without fail these foragers are foreign: Greek, Italian, French, German, Polish…Europeans are taking our mushrooms and I am on a mission to educate South Africans about wild mushrooms so that they don’t miss out on all the free food available to them.”
 
Back in the forest, we follow a path I’ve walked many times before with my dogs, before veering off into a stand of poplars next to a small stream. Within seconds Gary has prised a mushroom the size of my hand from the forest floor and he’s showing me how to clean it with a pocket knife. My eyes take a while to adjust to the gloom, but soon we each have a dozen or so ’shrooms in our baskets. They are all poplar boletus, (a poorer but delicious cousin of the famous porcini) which only grow in amongst the roots of living poplar trees.
 
If we’re going to find real porcini, we’ll have to find some oak or pine trees first. Gary (and his dogs) know the forest inside out, and after a steep scramble we’re in the midst of massive pines. There’s a thick coating of pine needles on the ground, so Gary tells me to look for bulges in this carpet rather than actual mushrooms. They’re a lot harder to find than the poplar boletus mushrooms but with Gary’s help I do find a few – including one which tips my kitchen scales at nearly half a kilo!
 
We continue our morning stroll, finding pine rings, bay boletus and wood blewits along the way. By half-past-nine I am back home with a basket that’s brimful with fungi and a pair of happy, muddy dogs. Over the next few days my family and I eat mushroom omelettes, risottos, stews and pastas and we discover a world of flavour that you could never get from supermarket mushrooms.

Three golden rules

  1. Never eat a mushroom you can’t positively identify. In the Western Cape, any mushroom with a spongy underside (as opposed to gills, like a fish) is edible. Gary will gladly identify a mushroom if you email him decent photos of it.
  2. Mushrooms will sprout two weeks after a drenching rain, provided there are some sunny days in between. In the Western Cape this is usually between May and October, in the Garden Route you can find mushrooms all year round.
  3. All the mushrooms we collected were ‘saprophytic’ (they attach themselves to the roots of certain trees). Many of the best-tasting species fall into this category, but so too does the deadly Death Cap…When in doubt always refer back to Rule 1.

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You can also go on a forage with Gary…

Gary does guided forages in Cape Town throughout the mushroom season. Anyone wanting to join him should call or SMS him on (073) 936 2378 and indicate whether he/she can forage during the week, or only on weekends or public holidays.

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