This weekend I joined Slow Food Mother City on a foraging expedition in Tokai Forest.  The aim of the outing wasn’t to gather up all the edible mushrooms and take them home with us, but rather to collect an assortment of fungi which our expert, Dr Nicky Alsopp would help us to identify: the good, the poisonous and everything in between.

It was a beautiful day, and after a brief overview by Dr Alsopp (basically: when in doubt, assume mushrooms with white gills are poisonous, and put any you’re not sure of into a separate bag) we split happily off into small groups and wandered off into the forest for an hour’s worth of foraging.

What I loved most about it was the shift in perspective that is required to spot mushrooms.  There’s an entire world on the forest floor – one we most often miss because we’re walking too fast to take it in.  Slow it down, and you become aware of the smells of the forest: resin from the pine trees, decomposing leaves, dark moist earth.

You notice the signs of animal life… tracks (even if you have no idea what made them), indentations in the grass where a reasonably large animal may have spent the night, baboon droppings and plenty of half-eaten rather sorry-looking mushroom remnants.

The city seemed very far away for that hour, as I toted my trusty camera about, getting up close ‘n’ personal with with the fungi and the forest.  I don’t think I’d make a very good hunter-gatherer – I seemed to be much more interested in photographing the mushrooms than in distinguishing edible from dangerous.

After our hour was up, we all gathered around Dr Alsopp and laid out our various finds on some large logs.  The variety was staggering – I had no idea there were quite so many different types of fungi in one place.

Dr Alsopp grouped similar kinds together, and separated poisonous from the rest – and we listened and watched avidly as she shared her extensive knowledge and enthusiasm with us.

It was a fascinating look into the world of wild mushrooms, and though I don’t think I’ll be foraging on my own just yet (a little knowledge being a dangerous thing), I would definitely love to join an accomplished forager one of these days.  As long as those who forage do so without having to take everything all at once (or destroying the things they don’t like), we should (in theory) be able to share this incredible natural resource indefinitely.

More about Slow Food Mother City:
Slow Food Mother City is a new local convivium (chapter) of the international Slow Food movement.  Slow Food celebrates, protects and promotes foods that are good, clean and fair.  More info here and at slowfoodmothercity.co.za

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