It appears we’re are living in a world of chaos. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, ferocious bush fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and that’s only the natural disasters. On top of that we have the terrorists, civil wars, genocide, religious persecution, the constant threat of nuclear war, the popular return of bigotry, racism, homophobia and nazi ideology. And Trump, we can’t forget the Trump. But it’s not all bad.
I struggled to get out of bed on a day off work recently. I had no parental responsibilities, no work, just a day off. I fell into a pit of sorrow after a massive week of work, world events on my mind and the never ending winter. When my lady asked me if I was going to get up I literally said “what’s the point”. It was still horrible weather outside, the world was still falling apart and my recent money woes were lingering like a bad smell. Bed offered a temporary safety net, and I was being a complete sook. I did eventually get up, I went for a jog and did stuff like a normal person (although begrudgingly).
That day we received some fairly horrible news involving cancer and a family member, I won’t go into details but it’s not good. It put everything into perspective to say the least. We had a weekend getaway booked and paid for which all had to be cancelled of course, which sucked, but not as much as getting a life altering cancer diagnosis I’m sure. I felt guilty for being an absolutely privileged, selfish human.
The day after the bad news, and on a whim, we decided a walk in hill country would do us a world of good. This place is special, I’ve done lots of thinking out there, getting happily lost amongst the bush and unique beauty of the landscape. It’s also the place where a particular wild mushroom appears for a few short weeks in Spring, the elusive morel. I love this species but never really have much luck due to it’s short window of availability.
With a cool breeze welcoming us, we left the 4x4 and began the ascent. We followed my reliable mushrooming nose, trained from years of dedicated picking. If you pick wild mushrooms you’ll know about the internal GPS of a wild mushroom picker. we never forget the exact location to return to each year to pick whatever fungal treasure we’re hunting, and it is a hunt, there’s no doubt about it. There’s something I feel, a sense of excitement, a determination to search out and gather food that nature provides. I get the same feeling when I’m fishing or hunting. My senses go into overdrive, my eyes feverishly scan the ground for a hint of black, any suggestion of mushroom is investigated. The morel is a real bastard of a mushroom to find, it looks like kangaroo poo which is everywhere out there and it’s unlike other mushrooms I pick, in that it’s sporadic in its distribution and you’ll often find one lonesome specimen no where near any others, which makes filling a basket a lengthy procedure. In fact, I’ve never fully filled a basket, it’s always been a few hear and there, one meal and that’s it. I guess that’s why they fetch big coin down at the city markets.
We hadn’t walked for more than 15 minutes when I spotted the first morel, then another, then another. It was like a spinning revolver, firing round after round in close succession. It was so exciting I got goosebumps, which could also have been the cool spring breeze. All I had in the car was some plastic shopping bags (yeah, so sue me) and the one I had in my pocket started to get heavy with morels. When I say heavy, I mean more than I’ve ever picked before, close to a kilogram. It was such a nice experience, being in the bush with my love, doing something that I love and actually having success, which might I add, I’ve not been feeling of late. Most things that have been happening in my life have kind of sucked recently. But here we where, walking in the bush, picking an amazing rare mushroom and enjoying being alive.
There’s a quick recipe that I lean on for these mushrooms, it’s a celebration of wild spring, morel and wild rabbit. It’s super easy and I love it so much that I shared it in my second book. Rabbit backstops are the quick cooking cut, easily pan fried. I tenderise them with a rolling pin, they only need a little tap or two. Then I drizzle over olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked wild pepper berry. I heat olive oil in the heavy cast iron pan my grandfather gave mum. I heat the oil until it’s fairly hot, then add the rabbit, sliced mushrooms (halved up the guts, slugs removed - optional) and a generous handful of fresh sage leaves. The rabbit back-strap doesn’t need much time in the pan but needs to be well cooked, so I go a few minutes on each side. As the rabbit cooks, the mushrooms release all their juices and a dreamy mushroom sauce forms, which eventually reduces and the pan gets a bit dry, that’s when I splash over some dry sherry and add a knob of butter covering everything with supreme awesomeness. Out onto a plate with a garnish of small sage leaves, a drizzle of fine olive oil and some rad cheese, this time I used a beautiful earthy hard cows milk cheese from Bruny Island cheese. My lady and I shared the plate and savoured every mouthful with occasional moans of joy.
I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate we are even when we think things are a bit ‘rough’ in our lives. Here I was a day earlier struggling get out of bed with a little bout of winter depression, a day later I was having a beautiful natural experience. If you think about it, picking wild food to eat is probably one of only a handful of truely natural activities. It’s when we can truely be mammals, real animals, not just humans, but natural animals picking naturally provided food. It’s very ancient, and it’s a beautiful thing that I am 'lucky' to be able to experience. I have my health, my legs work, I have the required knowledge, I have functioning senses and I am fit enough to walk where ever I want and could walk all day if I chose to. There are all things I should be thankful for.
I don’t know what the future holds. None of us do. I don’t really believe in luck, I don’t believe that thinking positively means that positive things will happen around you, but I do believe in fighting the fight that life presents us with and appreciating what we have, even the smallest of life’s joys. Although the circumstances for the catalyst were not the greatest, I’m glad to have a reminder of what is important in life.