Pouffy Hatted Mushroom Addict…

It’s official! I have graduated in a pouffy hat so you may now call me Dr Mushroomina. In my newly elevated academic status, I am automatically able (by virtue of aforementioned pouffy hattitude) to have the last word in every argument and, should I need to, have a rather excellent book to bore my future children to sleep with.

Unlike my father-in-law who apparently used to put my Peter to sleep by crooning the periodic table to him, I can talk about pathways to women’s empowerment and debate epistemological standpoints (clearly this future offspring of academic and engineer will be able to completely understand every word I say and know the crucial difference between Constructivism and Critical Realism while also being able to construct complex models out of twigs and rubber bands).

After many years of thinking about wild food and foraging as a rather addictive hobby, it has slowly dawned on me that actually, I now have two careers: one as an academic (currently at Leeds University Business School where I study how companies integrate green issues into their supply chains), and one as a madcap explorer of the free food world.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter ( I’m @Mushroomina for those who don’t…yet), it will seem like my entire life revolves around foraging, with my twitter posts serving serving as the punctuation in a Jane Austen-esque paragraph of epic length and complexity. I suppose in a way that’s true. Whether it’s my friends who say (with some astonishment) “how do you manage to do so much?” or my family who frequently say “you’re doing too much!”, the fact remains that I do A LOT. I’m sure there will come a time when I don’t have the energy to do quite so much and maybe then I will have to choose one career, but until then, I will continue to be the Pouffy-Hatted-Mushroom-Addict that I am. This is what a day in my life as a career juggler is like:

08:00 I’ve probably pressed the snooze button about six times by now and finally decide that it’s time to get out of bed and get ready for work.

09:15 I’ve now tried on about 7 outfits (even though I woke up knowing exactly what I was going to wear today). Those of you who have come for wild food walks where I am almost always dressed in my mucky pants and T-shirts with funny phrases I steal from Peter are probably wondering if this is the same Mina. I assure you it is. I just also happen to have enough clothes that I could probably have a new outfit for every day of the week for months without repeating them. I assuage my conscience about my shopaholic tendencies by trying to buy as much as possible from charity shops. That way I am not in fact pandering to our overly consumerist retail therapy society, I am giving money to great causes.

10:00 Park my car near a spot not too far from another spot where I know there are some mirabelles growing. I hope that I can have enough time to go and check on them after work and possibly pick some cherries while I’m at it . I reaffirm my position as the parking maestro in our house and resist the urge to text Peter a photo of my latest parking exploit. I walk to the office.

12:00 Brain melting through trying to summarise the results of the Q-Sort exercise I just completed to send off to our research partners in Hong Kong and Thailand. Decide to go for a short 10-minute walk around the building, in which I find (and tweet about) all the lovely edible things growing in the wildflower patch in front of the building. Go back to my office

14:15 Starting to feel like I could really REALLY do with a snack. Decide to go for a walk instead. This time I’m out for 20 minutes and find a saskatoon bush. Pick saskatoons, tweet about saskatoons, go back to my office.

17:30 Normal people would be going home about now but I’m only just hitting my stride and can’t bring myself to leave the office while in that perfect storm of academic productivity. So I fantasise about labelling my latest batch of Linden Blossom Cordial and get back to work.

19:00 Decide it’s probably time I went home now. So I go foraging instead. An hour and a half later, I have carrier bags full of berries in the car (which I have of course tweeted about) and will be turning into something tasty I can (hopefully) sell.

22:30 I’ve finished eating dinner (thank you Ma!) and am now making Jam. Tweet about it.

At the end of the day, I have once again successfully projected the idea that I spend all day doing nothing but foraging. Ta da!

The wonderful thing I find about living in Leeds is that I never have to go far to find wild mushrooms. Most of my foraging finds are (believe it or not) spotted while driving around this wonderful City I call home. And now that the rain has finally arrived, the summer fungi season has kicked off with a vengeance.

Be it the ubiquitous Jelly Ear fungus (erstwhile known as the period-appropriate but currently highly un-PC Jew’s Ear fungus) that is dangling from many an elder tree looking like some woodland creature’s ghoulish trophies, the fairy rings that are swiftly darkening, heralding the impending arrival of their bounties, the seemingly dead logs in the woods that have erupted in ghostly oyster mushrooms, seemingly overnight, or the horse mushrooms hiding amongst banks of nettles in a symbiotic relationship of protection and nourishment. As you can see, the wild food treasures around me have inspired me to ever greater levels of eloquence that my English Language teacher at school ( with his endless vocabulary tests, who taught me the meaning of the word bucolic and accused me of being verbose), would no doubt be proud of.

And don’t forget all the fruit! My current wild foodobsession is Sakatoons. Also known as June Berries and Amelanchier fruits, these little reddish-purple berries are simply divine! They taste like blueberries when raw, smell like cherries when cooking, and in jam they have a flavour somewhere between cherries and blackberries. I am reasonably sure that if you keep your eyes peeled as you’re walking around town you will see some. They are surprisingly common although the season is starting to draw to a close so don’t leave it too late before you go out hunting for them! I have been making lots of clafoutis lately as I love its golden topped eggy sweetness, that provides such a delectable counterpoint to the tart blackcurrants from my garden, the jewel-like saskatoons and the marzipan notes of the wild cherries I didn’t pit. It also happens to be an unbelievably quick dessert to make (takes 35 minutes from start to finish) and cold leftovers make a fantastic breakfast. For those of you who haven’t tried clafoutis before, you don’t know what you’ve missed! So here is my clafoutis recipe to help you in your journey to discover this scrumptious French dessert. It’s even Gluten Free!

 

Summer Fruit Clafoutis

 

450g Mixed Wild Fruit (try cherry, saskatoon & blackcurrant or cherry plum)

1 tbsp Sugar

2 tbsp Ground Almonds

40g Brown Sugar

45g White Sugar

250ml Double Cream

2tbsp of elderflower cordial (optional)

2 Eggs

70g Cornflour

Put fruit into a 10 inch flan dish and sprinkle with the 1 tbsp of Sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 180C to soften the fruits.

Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients together and blend well. When the fruit comes out of the oven, pour the custard mix over the fruit and return to the oven for a further 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Leave to cool slightly before slicing and serving, maybe with a little whipped cream or a fruit coulis & some more berries on the side.

Bask in the adulation of your friends and family.

And before I leave you, those of you who live in North Leeds may have seen it already but this month’s issue of North Leeds Life features an article I wrote about my top 5 wild food for this season and I’m on the front cover! For those of you who live elsewhere, you can read it online here.

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp