Tag Archives: Fungi

Gorilla in the Mist

We have been in Italy for 6 weeks in total. For each new person we meet or new village we enter we wonder if we’ll ever have a truly authentic Italian experience. Some time with a family would be nice or the chance to learn about home cooked Italian food. From the comfort of our Molise farmhouse we looked through the wwoof host list once again and although we usually steer clear of agri-tourism farms there was something wooing us towards our next host. It may have been the photo’s that Nina spotted of home made pasta and freshly baked wood oven bread. In fact I’m sure it was. We contacted Giovanni and he was keen to have us for a week in Busso before we left Italy for Greece.

Giovanni kindly collected us from our farmhouse in Faifoli. He has a friend with a mill nearby and was keen to pick up some fresh flour for baking and making polenta later in the week. He hinted on route that he was recently separated from his wife and it was obvious when we arrived at his house that the agri-tourism business had been laid to rest. The topic of conversation in the car was verging on obsessive and Giovanni clearly had a new passion – truffle hunting! It turns out that we had arrived in one of the most prolific black truffle hotspots in Italy and THE only region in the world where you can find the elusive white truffle.

Giovanni got up at 4am every morning to take two of his five dogs out hunting. He mentioned to us that he watches films or listens to music at around 2am each night and he was up past twelve every day that we were there. One day we found him randomly sleeping in his car at lunchtime and on day five he confessed to insomnia which gave reason to the silver-back nature we had experienced, calm and attentive one minute and explosive and unpredictable the next. We wanted authentic and we certainly got it. Our time in Busso was very testing but also very rewarding.

Our host, also a professional chef, was keen to demonstrate his skills in the kitchen and we were baking sourdough bread and pizza within hours of arrival. He cooked pumpkin risotto, wild chicory, potato and bean pasta amongst an array of other Italian delights with home made wine with every lunchtime and evening meal. Oh yes, before you ask, we were treated to the legendary black truffles, once with egg and once with the polenta on a friendly visit to parents for lunch. There is no other taste like it in the world. Delicate fungi with a buttery warmth that when grated, raw, has a distinct texture similar to parmesan cheese. I could see how they could become addictive and maybe why Giovanni was obsessed and a bit crazy.

Our duties as wwoofers were mostly helping out around the place. We emptied a wood shed and added some new acacia uprights for roof support before re-stacking it, we put up some fencing, we helped move things around that he couldn’t have done alone, we supervised the revival of an old lawnmower and we generally kept the crazy-maker’s kitchen clean. Plus we made another round of elderflower cordial, our third batch in Italy!

Giovanni mentioned a few times that he wanted to ‘do’ permaculture in his vegetable garden. On day four he went out to visit a friend and Nina and I set about turning an unused area of his vegetable plot into a synergistic garden. I’d learnt the basics from Elena a few weeks earlier. The process of setting it up is very easy and due to the no-dig nature it only has to be done once. On the slope I pulled earth from the high ground down to form one metre terraces, leaving a path. Nina added plenty of old sheep and rabbit poo and I then added a drip irrigation pipe along the top of each terrace and we heavily mulched, paths an all. We had some seeds collected from our journey so far, some seedlings that Giovanni bought plus whatever we could find around the property, like strawberries and mint. We designed a companion pattern for each bed and packed them full of food crop and beneficial plants like borage and calendula. Giovanni was very happy with his new garden and said that he was hoping to transfer the whole veg patch into this type of ‘easy’ growing system.

We were asked along to a morning truffle hunt one day. Up and out the door before 5am. Dew-proof trousers, a big stick and sniffer dogs in cages. It was all very surreal. We drove to an area just a few kilometres away, a young forest emerging from grassland. Oaks, blackthorn, wild apples, hawthorn, poplar and dogwood were all present. Giovanni showed us areas of grass die back where he expects to find truffles and sadly areas where some very competitive truffle hunters had dug up meters of soil around the tree. They do this once they have found just one truffle in the hope of randomly finding more. Not only do they take the unripe truffles but they break the mycellium and upset the symbiotic relationship of tree and truffle and any hopes of the same area fruiting again. Our guide has no need for this illegal type of scavenging as his dogs are so good at honing in to the spot. It was great to see them nose to ground, excited by what they may find. We didn’t find a truffle that morning. He never does when he takes people with him. We heard the horror stories of poison baits being left for dogs, easy for poachers to get the upper hand once your rival dog is dead. It’s big business and Giovanni has a friend who recently sold a truffle for $23,000.

I was worried for Giovanni and I was worried for his animals. I could have counted the number of hours sleep he’d had in one week on one hand. One moment he was full of joy and enthusiasm for his new garden and the next he was whacking one of his hounds in frustration. He was relying on truffles for an income and relying on his dogs for truffles. When little Ziggy got a wheat tuft in her ear it was the cost of removing it that seemed the major concern and not the welfare of the dog. I had to remind our host that the dogs had no water in their cages, cages that they spend every moment in when not truffle hunting. It makes me think about using animals as tools for profit related business. And it makes me think about relying on one stream of income and the pressure that comes with it. The permaculture principle of redundancy teaches us not to put all our eggs in one basket. The analogy of the spiders web demonstrates this perfectly, it can still perform it’s function even when a whole bunch of links are broken. I hope that Giovanni will be inspired by his new garden and maybe he will develop it further for less reliance on truffle hunting.

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Porcini’s in Popolano

After a really wonderful day in Venice with Ma and Pa we decided that an Italian countryside chill out was needed and hopped on a train south to Popolano, a small village inside the Tuscan region.  The rain only enhanced the lush green vegetation amongst the rolling green hills.  It was my first taste of the Italian countryside, I felt it soothing my soul, just what we needed!

Hardly time to settle into our room before Giovanni our host knocked at the door with a big box of mushrooms.  His father had been out that morning and hauled in a monster catch.  We were invited to go foraging the next day if the weather was fine.  A sunny day following a week of rain is perfect for the porcini at this time of year.

The language barrier reared it’s ugly head once again and so we were not quite sure when or where we would go but at around 2pm we got a knock on the door and were ushered into a little 4×4 panda with Giovanni’s father Roberto and whisked of up into the mountains.

Roberto obviously knew what he was doing and it felt like he was also passing his knowledge on to Giovanni as he pointed to different shades of green and distinct arches in the grass.  They both had cool little rake-type-comb things.  They showed us where to look and then got busy scratching around in the field.

A very different technique than when Nina and I were wandering through the New Forest unable to miss the hundreds of mushrooms thrusting themselves towards us.  We had to hunt hard for them and to make things harder someone had already been to this patch earlier in the day.

We hunted around for a good couple of hours and found ourselves enough fungi for dinner.  We were told that in another two weeks there would be many more mushrooms and they’d be bigger too.  We were on the cusp of fungi season and so retired to our home for the evening eager to cook up our new found treats.

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November at The Patch

On returning from our road trip we came back to a very different Patch.  As we move through autumn our vegetable garden has started to die back although there are still a few bits and pieces to harvest.  The trees have started to lose their leaves and the medlar has dropped some fruit.  The green roof is looking great and we’re really keen to get this finished in the next couple of weeks.   Other jobs in the coming weeks will be the planting and mulching of a new delivery of fruit and other interesting trees as well as soft fruit and nitrogen fixers for the food forest.  We’ll be planting and then mulching and adding other support plants to create balanced guilds that will have a better chance of survival in our absence.

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A visit to see Paul in Sheffield was also on the cards and it was a great place to start some ground work for my diploma pathway.  I made full use of Paul’s flat whilst he was at Uni and we even managed a walk in the Peak District which looks amazing at this time of year.  After a quick stop over for a party in London, I travelled down to Bradford-upon-Avon for my belated Diploma induction and a catch up with Richard, Michelle and Grace.  It was great to also see some other Diploma students and old friends permablitzing their lives!!!  Couldn’t help a little mushroom hunt when I got back to Norfolk.  Goose common is right next door to The Patch and is a great foraging spot.  Only poisonous fungi about today though…  Diploma work to do…

Finding Food Down South

We found ourselves on the Isle of Wight in the middle of September and on visiting an amazing garlic farm we stumbled across the beginnings of our new found addiction – mushrooms!!!  It was the perfect time of year and so we treated ourselves to a great new book by Roger Phillips and began our exploration the fungi world.  It took me back to when I was a child hunting for mushrooms with my sister in the forests around Thetford.  We got a taster on the Isle of Wight before moving into The New Forest.  Wow!  The place was teeming with them and it wasn’t long before we’d come to recognise and find some nice edibles.  The Trumpet Chanterelle, Hedgehog Fungus and the Cep were our first true wild muchroom cooking experiences.  We were addicted.  Another amazing wild food down in that part of England is the Sea Buckthorn Berry, it’s little orange berries provided an incredible amount of nutrition. Find more information at PFAF

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