Autumn on Vancouver Island brings with it many delights, among them the prospect of yummy meals created with the huge variety of wild mushrooms that can be found here. Mushroom foraging is not, however, for the faint of heart or for the foolish, as we learned during a wonderful Saturday spent with mycologist and chef extraordinaire Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm.
Among his many projects (cookbook author, guest chef, food consultant, host chef) Bill runs a series of foraging workshops from his small farm in the Cowichan Valley. In the fall the workshops focus on wild mushrooms because that is the main season for them. Weather plays a huge role in what varieties you can find, and when you can find them, and where. But a few hours spent in the delightful company of Bill and the nine other folks who attended his workshop had us up to speed and, happily, very well-fed by the end of the day. Bill calls the workshops ‘a general overview of what you need to know in order to keep yourselves alive.’
Our day began with generous servings of Bill’s house-made hummus featuring chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and a long discussion and display of the various kinds of mushrooms found in the Cowichan area – both the edible ones, and those that can kill you. A generous handout package featured colour photos and written descriptions of the edible types, along with a couple of recipes. All of the lectures and dining are staged in Deerholme’s pretty 1904 renovated cottage
Lecture over, Bill returned to the kitchen to put the final touches on lunch (featuring a variety of mushrooms, of course) while we ‘students’ whiled away the short wait perusing his many cookbooks or hanging over the kitchen counter watching him at work.
Following a sumptuous lunch featuring a tasty terrine, simple romaine salad and filling rice chowder we headed outdoors where we tramped through forest and field, sometimes along trails, other times through dense undergrowth. While the foraging movement is becoming very popular it certainly isn’t a simple walk in the woods. In fact as Bill adeptly pointed out, the further away you are from public spaces the more likely you are to find wild mushrooms. In our particular case the quest led us through farm fields, up hills through dense woodland undergrowth and along trails. Bill took the time to explain the types of terrain preferred by each variety of commonly found mushroom. Dry weather up to the point of our visit meant that not many fungi had emerged on the forest floor but we managed to find a fair number of varieties, all examined closely by Bill and elucidated upon.
Two hours later we returned to the cottage to finish off the day with dessert – a not-too-sweet apple crumble featuring fruit from the Deerholme tree (no mushrooms in this course). And, because Bill is the ultimate forager, the crumble was accompanied by a lovely tea that combined the needles of Grand Fir (collected during our walk) and honey.
Overall it was a great, relaxed day of camaraderie, learning and great food – a fine, gentle transition from Indian summer into the charms of autumn and all it has to offer.
Further information on Deerholme Farm and its many events can be found at the website: www.deerholme.com
Deerholme Farm is located at 4830 Stelfox Road, Duncan
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.7448846 Long. -123.76171590000001
N 48 44.693 W 123 45.703