Fabulous Fungi

It’s a truism that if one’s never had or enjoyed something, one doesn’t miss it. When I was in my 20’s, I discovered that I had a problem with caffeine.  And, a couple of years later, with  pseudoephedrine.  Both give me a buzz, stop me from sleeping and the latter gives me serious nightmares.  That’s more than twenty thirty years ago.  Learning to cope without that after dinner coffee was difficult.  Learning not to drink coffee – even the inexpensive stuff that’s not supposed to give you a kick – after lunch, was equally difficult.

I have learned not to miss it.  I am terrified of medication that might include either.  That first experience with pseudoephedrine was so bad, I still remember the consecutive nights of no sleep. My body and head ached with the worst dose of influenza, ever, in my twenty-something years.  I was exhausted and try as I might, I could not sleep.  I didn’t know why.  In desperation, after three days and nights of sleep deprivation, not getting better and in tears, I phoned for an urgent appointment with my doctor.  She changed the medication:  a nose drop replaced the decongestant tablet.  I slept like a baby – for days – and began to get better.


The way I show people I care, is through cooking and food.  I love cooking; I love flavours as do many of our friends.  Fortunately, neither The Husband nor I have food allergies.  It’s an affliction The Husband understands:  his father was allergic to mustard;  it would send him into anaphylactic shock.  Even in minute quantities.  I have learned to understand it thanks to my reactions to pseudoephedrine and caffeine.  The consequences of too much caffeine although not life-threatening, are such that it’s just not worth that glorious cup of coffee after dinner or the late summer afternoon iced coffee. I’ve learned to live without it after dinner and at least I get to enjoy it with breakfast and before midday.

The pseudoephedrine nightmares stop when the course of medication ends.  I weigh up the benefits of some nightmarish sleep against none at all.

Why the digression?

Another truism (and idiom) is that birds of a feather flock together, so many of our friends enjoy food, flavours, cooking. Some are or have been chefs, restauranteurs and publicans.  One is allergic to mushrooms.  So allergic that even if a smidgeon of mushroom finds its way into a dish, she’s ill for days.  It’s an allergy she’s had since childhood.  We’ve been at dinner parties where she’s eschewed the main and politely only eaten rice (with whatever available condiments) and garlic bread.

I know enough about her enjoyment of flavours to know that if she were able to eat mushrooms, she’d be hooked.  My sharing our marvellous discovery of edible mushrooms in our garden was, though, entirely lost on her.  It made me sad.

If you look behind this chap, and to the left, there are at least another five poking their heads out from under the little rocks.

Mushroom Memories

I grew up with a horticulturist father.  We always had a vegetable garden and it’s from him I inherited green fingers and my constant love of eating our own produce: whether we planted it or not.  Not having grown up in this country, he didn’t forage here, but I know that as a child in Scotland, he did.  This means that when field mushrooms seasonally popped up in the rolling lawns of the gardens he curated, they’d end up on our table.

The rolling lawns of the Grahamstown Botanical Gardens that “grew” my childhood memory’s mushrooms.

One of the workers would pick them in the early morning and bring them to our house.  My mother would “tidy them up” and they’d sit, gills down.  They dropped their spores like dark brown fairy rings on the white ceramic.  I remember my father laboriously explaining what made edible mushrooms identifiable including their smell.  For as long as we lived in that house, and when the conditions were right, we’d have mushrooms from “the gardens”.

Not all mushrooms are magic

Along with his enthusiasm for mushrooms that didn’t emerge from a plastic an polystyrene package, came my father’s caveat that not all mushrooms are edible.  He cautioned against foraging unless one knows what one’s doing.  At that age and stage in my life, he didn’t elaborate on those “other” mushrooms that create magic of a different sort…. That said, although cautious, I’m not averse to finding out whether we might eat fungi that grow in our garden.  There are a lot.  I believe that along with the mushrooms, we have fairies…

Over the years, I’ve photographed the mushrooms that have popped up.  The bit of research I’ve done over the last couple of weeks suggests that the top left two frilly jobs might, just be edible.  We now know, and live to tell, that the mushrooms in the bottom right picture are edible.


Nearly a month ago, The Husband called me into the vegetable garden:

Have you seen the huge mushrooms in the vegetable patch?

We stared at them in awe, not quite sure what to do, and then went about our day.  Then more came up;  they reminded him of the mushrooms that grow out of the ant nests where his cattle grazed in Zimbabwe.  It was Friday.  Then on Saturday, there were more, including this magnificent specimen.  In the interim, I had asked a market mate about them and he offered to bring his mushroom book to the market.  Then I realised that there are inevitably folk with hidden knowledge and talents who’ve been in the village for years.I picked that huge MoFo.  I have two regrets:  not weighing it or taking a photograph of the harvested creature. It occupied virtually the entire diameter of this bowl.  Yes, that’s a teaspoon to give a sense of scale.

At the market, we discovered that a knowledgeable Mushroom Man lives in the village and has, forever.  He’s a regular at the market, so when he trundled by, The Husband presented him with the creature.  His eyes lit up –


Are they edible?

Yes, they are de-li-cious!

He told us how this particular mushroom is always associated with ants (termites).  Years ago, he continued, he and a few other folk would harvest these and field mushrooms in the horse and cattle pastures (the then open plots) around the village.  They’d do it in the early dawn and before anyone else discovered the treasure.

He inspected it:  pointed out the gills, that it had a cap and “frill”, deeply breathing in the aroma of earthy mushroom.  He echoed my father’s judgement –

It smells right.

So delighted was I, that in gratitude, I asked him if he’d like it.  His eyes lit up and accepted without hesitation.  He went on to advise that we should harvest the remaining crop because they “go over” quickly. I promptly followed his instructions. This was the first haul.

amaKhowe from our garden with the same teaspoon to give a sense of scale.


Many fungi are parasitic and/or symbiotic.  This mushroom – its name, amaKhowe is isiZulu, and means “wild mushroom”, only grows in the presence of ants.  Termites – of whatever variety – are essential to their very existence:

This mushroom (Termitomyces umkowaani) is a large, finely fleshed beefsteak mushroom with a cap that can grow up to 30 cm in diameter. They have a sweet and mildly nutty flavor. This mushroom species belongs to a variety of mushrooms that depend on the activity of termites for their “cultivation,” and grow in a symbiotic relationship with the insects inside their nests. The termites transplant the amakhowe spores to their nests, where the fungi break down wood and dried grass, decomposing materials like cellulose and lignin, which the insects cannot digest, and [this] form[s] a biomass that is rich in nitrogen and can be consumed by the termites. When it rains in the spring, within 24 hours the fungi produce the aboveground portion of the mushrooms that is consumed by humans.


This confirmed that “our” mushrooms are, indeed, the same mushrooms that The Husband remembers from his youth.  As it turns out, the section of our garden, and those stone paths that separate our vegetable beds are often crawling with large ants.  As I think about it, the garden is a maze of ant nests – ants of different varieties.  We have subsequently harvested mushrooms from other parts of the garden and now watch more carefully – in the hope that they push their way from the depths of those nests.  I am amazed at how they displace earth and stone.

These mushrooms, although emerging in autumn, did follow rain and significant flying ant activity.

The best ever Shroom Risotto

As usual, my mother is a reference for how ingredients were commonly used.  As I recall, she used mushrooms in a sauce (often with red wine) and fried, for breakfasts, and that’s about it.  I, on the other hand, will use mushrooms in a variety of ways.  I’m reminded of another restaurateur friend who wondered what anyone sees in fresh shrooms – they’re tasteless!

They are, if one doesn’t develop the flavour:  slow cooked with olive oil (and butter if you do that), white wine and parsley or thyme does it for me.  Somewhere, I also have a recipe for a light pickle with dill and make a ‘shroom and nut pate…  All are delicious.

Beefsteak Mushroom King

In addition to the isiZulu name, these are known as beefsteak mushrooms, so I decided we needed a meal that made them king.   Not many of them were beautiful, so stuffing and eating them whole was not really an option.  It was either pasta or risotto.  I settled for the latter because it’s a dish that allows complex flavours to develop.

R-L: Prepared with tough skins peeled; two, “perfect” specimens sautéed whole, the rest chopped and sautéed with olive oil, butter and white wine.

Basic Risotto

Risotto is not difficult to make.  Rather, it is like a small child:  you can’t leave it to its own devices.  It’s also best made with arborio (glutinous) rice.  Simply sauté a finely chopped onion in a generous quantity of olive oil and add finely chopped (minced) garlic.  At the same time, prepare the stock (broth) – either chicken or vegetable – and keep it warm.  I use the latter or my own home made chicken stock if I have some (I make and freeze it).  Once the onion is transparent, add the rice and stir to coat and cook a little.  Before adding the stock, add the white wine and once that’s absorbed, repeat the process with the stock until the rice is cooked and the mixture is the appropriate consistency.

Finally, add the bits with which you want to eat the risotto – in this case, the mushroom.  The final two and traditional ingredients is a grating of Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  If you’d like a recipe with quantities and instructions, download one here.   If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

In case you think I’m a soak…

I am aware that this meal seems awash with wine.  I do like to cook with wine, and yes, often it’s in the glass to the right of the stove.  This time, though, it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about the flavour.  There is something about the flavour that dry white wine brings to both mushrooms and risotto that it would be a cardinal sin to omit it.

A last word

Unless you’re absolutely certain that the mushrooms or fungi you forage are not toxic, don’t touch them.  As one wag put it, you only need to taste it once

In addition to the source already quoted, and for South Africans, I found at least two useful (and active) pages on Facebook as well as the Mushroom Guru website.  I have no doubt that there are similar local resources wherever one can forage for fungi.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Twice a year Traci York hosts a challenge to bloggers to post daily for a month. I’ve participated (or tried) for three years I’ve known her via the blockchain.  Twice I’ve succeeded.  It’s that time of the year again, and I’m giving it a go – on the Hive blockchain.  WordPress bloggers are also invited to participate.
Source: Traci York
  • In search of English writing, research and editing services, look no further:  I will help you with – 
    writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
    formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
    more information here
  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications.  From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin.  If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

Saucy tomatoes: otherwise known as Passata

When I met The Husband, he fended for himself and it wasn’t long before he informed me that a kitchen should never be without onions and tomatoes:  no tasty main meal (other than breakfast), could exclude onions.  Add tomatoes, he maintained, and you have the basis of a good meal.  I didn’t disagree, but over the years, I’ve learned that there are some dishes that don’t need onion.  However, it’s the tomatoes that have my attention, today.  We both love them and have our own associations with their cultivation.  The Husband, when he was beef ranching in Zimbabwe, and had the dubious pleasure, on occasions, of overseeing the harvest of the fruit for the local cannery.  He also talks of the dire gastric consequences, for workers, of eating not just sun-ripe but sun-hot tomatoes.  Talk about learning the hard way….

Brinjal and tomatoes (Moneymaker) from our 2016 crop

Tomatoes and brinjals are all members of the deadly nightshade (Solanum) family, as are potatoes.  You’ll see the similarity looking at their flowers, not the leaves, which are poisonous.

Dad’s tomatoes

I remember my parents (my father, actually), growing tomatoes every year until they moved into a retirement home.

Mum & Dad outside their house in Marshall Street, Grahamstown, a few months before they moved into the retirement home. And the last picture I took of them together.

Dad grew Moneymaker tomatoes from seed.  Rarely anything else.  This variety is a medium-sized, high-yielding tomato with excellent flavour.  They were sewn in June and would germinate in very cold weather – the little seedlings felt the cold.  They’d often be blue.  Really.

Before they retired and living in a small town, they would go home for lunch.  The pinching back and inspection of the annual tomato crop was a lunchtime ritual.  Pinching out the side shoots and staking them ensured tall, robust plants, that would eventually be weighed down with delicious red, sweet fruit.  I remember tomato-filled trays on every surface in the kitchen and sometimes the diningroom.  Now, the same is happening around our home. Tomatoes were never stored in the fridge.  It ruins the flavour.  Tomatoes served from the fridge infuriated The Dad.  Now it infuriates me…

For some reason, Mum didn’t often preserve tomatoes.  Only twice do I remember my mother “doing” anything with them:  once when a hail storm damaged the not-yet-ripe crop, she made green tomato chutney and on another, she made ketchup.

Now me, on the other hand, I’ll bottle anything.  Almost.  It’s a standing joke among some of our friends who warn The Husband that he might end up pickled and/or in a jar!  Besides that, and enjoying tomato, both tinned (bottled) tomatoes and a basic, traditional Italian tomato sauce, are useful and versatile.  Since first making it in about 2014, I make passata whenever I can get my hands on a goodly quantity of tomatoes.  The recipe is courtesy of the Katie Caldesi’s 2012:  Italian Cookery Course (Kyle Books, Great Britain) a gift for my 50th birthday.


Be warned, though, if you embark on this journey: passata takes an enormous quantity of tomatoes and a considerable amount of time to make a relatively small quantity.

My first attempt at making passata in 2014

This year (2021) we have a bumper crop of tomatoes so Passata is back on my agenda.


The basic ingredients, other than tomatoes include garlic, onions, carrots and celery as well as, of course, olive oil.

In terms of quantities, I generally double up the ingredients for the two-step process:

For the first step


200ml olive oil
2,5kg cherry tomatoes (I use both cherries and “ordinary” tomatoes – more often the latter)
200g carrots, diced
200g celery, diced
225g white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
10g salt (which I omitted)
5g freshly ground black pepper

Chuck all these ingredients into an enormous saucepan (my stock pot just coped with the double quantity).  Cook over a medium heat, stirring and squashing the tomatoes to break them up.  Bring to the boil and reduce heat and simmer for about 50 minutes.

Caldesi says that the mixture should then be passed through a sieve or passetutto to remove the skins.  I tried that once and it’s seriously time-consuming and tiring.  So, this time round, I followed her alternative suggestion and stuck in the stick blender and puréed the mixture.

For the second step

Additional Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
100g white onion, finely chopped
1 fat garlic clove
salt (which I omitted) and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs of basil
2 tablespoons sugar, as necessary (I find that if I don’t add salt, sugar is often not necessary;  also if the tomatoes are sun-ripened, even off the vine, they are generally sweeter than those that ripen artificially)

Heat the oil in another, large, clean pot (I used the base of my pasta pot) and add the onion.  Stir and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until soft (7 – 10 minutes).  Add the basil and garlic.

Add the puréed mixture and cook until it reaches a sauce-like consistency.  Depending on the water content of the tomatoes, this could happen relatively quickly or could take a while – anything from 10 minutes (I should be so lucky) to an hour.

Pour into sterilised jars and boil again.

The quantities in the recipe should yield about 1,4 kg.  My 5 kg of tomatoes produced 11 jars (and a bit).

You can download a printable version of this recipe here.

Quick pasta supper

I’m thrilled with this batch:  it’s delicious and some of the half-filled jar was used to make us a quick pasta supper that night.  It consisted of homemade pasta, with passata stirred through it, and served with a drizzle of basil pesto and a locally made mature Gouda.

Final word

I first wrote this post in 2014, so not only was it due for an update especially given this year’s fantastic (and currently ongoing) harvest, but I have promised a recipe to Mary – she of the famous flatbreads.  So, Mary, this is for you!

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


Aubergines – awful or awesome?

In our house, we call them brinjals, and other people call them melanzane or egg plants. You either like them or you don’t – like a friend’s daughter who, when she was little, announced to her mother

I don’t want to eat allmyjeans!!

It took a while to work out that then little girl, now a beautiful young woman, meant aubergines…

We grow brinjals – the variety we have grown, are beautiful, shiny and a glossy deep, deep purple, and feature in cuisine from all shores of the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Smaller varieties, in other colours, are a feature of Asian food.  We’ve grown them, too, and I’ve served them – stuffed as a vegetarian option for Sunday Supper.

We always have brinjals in the fridge. Our regular Sunday breakfast includes a slice of fried brinjal, something I used to feel somewhat guilty about until Tim Noakes’ flip to a high-fat diet!

I have, subsequently, made some changes to my own diet that echoes those tenets.  That, however, is a story for another time.


Brinjals are really versatile.  One can do much more with them than the relatively popular Melanzane Parmigiana and Moussaka in which they are centre pieces.

I must also mention that brinjals are not as fiddly to cook with as they used to be: most recipes recommend that you salt and allow them to stand for half an hour to remove the bitterness. Modern horticulture has developed brinjals that are no longer bitter. I never salt brinjals anymore, and I don’t recall the last time we had a bitter brinjal.

So, here are two awesome, really quick and easy things to do with aubergines, followed by a special request:


Brinjal, together with courgettes are an integral ingredient of Ratatouille, the dish that famously turned food critic, Anton Ego, into a warm human being, fond of rats…

Its fancy name (pronounced rat-a-too-ee) belies how easy it is to make: sauté a chopped onion in olive oil, followed by one or two cloves of garlic, chopped, a diced robot of bell peppers, brinjal and courgettes (zucchini), adjusting quantities so that they are in proportion. Finally, add two or so skinned, chopped tomatoes. Some recipes suggest mushrooms and no brinjals, while others include both. It’s up to you. The most difficult part of this dish is not to overcook it – you want lovely liquid from the various vegetables but you don’t want them to turn to mush, so watch the pot!  As it’s just about done, add a good handful of fresh, chopped oreganum and/or italian parsley.

More recently, I’ve taken to roasting the peppers and then adding them towards the end, which I did here:

Serve hot or cold – with pasta, beautiful bread or rice – accompanied by a sprinkling of cheese (mild or strong, depending on your preference).

Ratatouille makes a lovely side dish, vegan or vegetarian meal.

Grilled Brinjal salad with a chilli yoghurt dressing

This is a variation on a platter served at Jakes in the Village, a few years ago, and a favourite spot when we lived in Cape Town.  We enjoyed it so much, I experimented and have now made it my own. The salad consists of slices of brinjal, grilled, placed on a bed of leaves and drizzled with a yoghurt dressing. This simple dressing is made from plain yoghurt, a little chilli jam (or fresh chilli, chopped and some honey) lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Of course, garnish with fresh coriander which works so well with chilli!


In this salad, I added fresh avocado and dill.

Keeping a paté promise

This post was one of my first – back in 2014.  It makes me realise how far I have come – blogging, cooking and taking happy snaps of my food.  I do admit that some of those early posts have been consigned to cyber oblivion.  No blockchains then.  Again, another conversation for another time.

This morning, a friend reminded me of a paté I used to make.  Often.  I first ate it in the home of a former uni lecturer and world expert in Dickens.  She subsequently gave me the recipe book from which it came.  Some time in the last nearly twenty years, I lent it to someone, I don’t know whom, and I’ve never had it back.  I’ve continued making the paté – from memory.  In the original version of this post, I gave the recipe somewhat en passant: just a list of ingredients and a basic process, but not much else.

Peculiarly, I have been thinking about this recipe because it’s the season when our market is quite busy and vegetarian options in greater demand.  I learned that it’s not like the chicken liver paté and hummus that are constant good sellers, so I’d not done it for a while.

It is not the middle eastern baba ghanoush of which I am not fond.  Perhaps I’ve not had a “good” one.  Equally, it’s possible that I’ve had a “good” on a meze platter and not known what it is.  It is vegan.  My bringal paté is not, but the cottage cheese can be substituted with vegan cheese.  It’s simple – roasted brinjal, cottage cheese, garlic and fresh herbs.  A remembers it from happier days when we sat in our Cape Town garden enjoying spritzers and not talking shop or, heaven help the world, Covid.

Here we are, 14 years ago in that same garden – a party that marked my 20th year as an independent consultant in my previous day job

Good times as colleagues and friends and good to remember them now – and to be able to keep a promise.

For you, A, and now I’ve applied my mind, the recipe is here.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

Looking for that gift for someone who has everything? Shop with Pearli in my evolving Redbubble shop

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain. Click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

In yet another aspect of my life –

English writing, research and online tutoring services
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here