Guided Mushrooming Tours with Detour Adventures

Mushroom foraging is one of the many attractions of the NSW Central Tablelands. During autumn, it eclipses all the region’s other temptations, during the season Ian via his company, Detour Adventures, conducts guided mushrooming tours.

Ian Redpath bounces out of his top-of-the-range 4WD, with a brochure in hand. Called Fungi of the Central Tablelands and Central West, the sturdy pamphlet contains photographs of 96 of the probable hundreds, possible thousands, of fungi that grow in the region.

Ian cheerfully advises that of the illustrated selection, 94 of them are poisonous, ranging in severity from mild tummy upset to potentially lethal. Today, we’re foraging for the two edible varieties, saffron milk caps and slippery Jacks and, to state the bleedin’ obvious, we’re extremely grateful to be in his capable hands.

Mushroom foraging is one of the many attractions of the NSW Central Tablelands, and during autumn, it eclipses all the region’s other temptations — the World Heritage- listed Jenolan Caves, the Abercrombie and Kanangra-Boyd National Parks, the spectacular autumn display at Mayfield Garden, even the possibility of catching dinner by fishing for trout in the rivers or lakes. The peak mushrooming month is April, but if the weather gods are kind and deliver sufficient rain in March, the season can start earlier and, if it doesn’t become cold too early, it may extend into May.

Guided Mushrooming Tours with Detour Adventures

During the season Ian, via his company, Detour Adventures, conducts guided mushrooming tours departing from the village of Oberon on an almost daily basis, with group sessions of a maximum of seven guests in the morning and private tours in the afternoon. Tours take two to three hours and conclude with a fry-up in the forest, or hopefully a good box full to take home for later consumption.

“It’s a bit like whale watching,” Ian explains. “If the conditions aren’t right, you can’t make the mushrooms pop. You have to enjoy the experience of being deep in the trees, far from any other humans.” Indeed, the almost oceanic soundtrack of the wind in the trees is reason enough to spend time in the pine forest.

The tours take foragers deep into the state forests surrounding Oberon and nearby villages of Black Springs and Hampton. You can of course go on your own, and the Oberon Tourist Office gives helpful advice and a map to point you in the right direction. But for the obvious reason of surviving the adventure, first-timers are well advised to forage with someone who knows what they’re looking for. Besides, Ian has a 4WD that can take you places conventional vehicles can’t go and where the maze of forestry roads makes getting lost another real and present danger.

Detour Adventures

On the way out of town, he takes the opportunity to share the rules of the forest. First and foremost, don’t pick anything you’re not sure is edible. If in doubt, leave it in the ground. The risk of contamination is high and perfectly good mushrooms can be easily rendered inedible by contact with poisonous varieties. By the same rule, if you want a closer look at the mushroom and need to remove pine needles or twigs, use a stick that you can throw away, rather than your hand or knife. Pine mushrooms spoil easily so aim to secure them with a claw-like hand while you cut them off at the stem, avoiding touching the underside. Then gently flip them into the palm of your hand and transfer, underside up, to the box or basket. And when on the hunt, remember the prettier the mushroom, the more likely it is to be poisonous. Those gorgeous red and white dotted specimens you’d almost expect to be sheltering a fairy are not for eating! Bring sanitiser and perhaps a cloth for wiping your hands. And don’t get too excited.

Forest mushrooms have a very short shelf life, so don’t pick more than you can reasonably expect to eat in the next day or so. And discard any that appear mouldy or overly damaged.

Saffron milk caps are easy to identify for their bright orange colour and concentric rings on the top of the cap, which is usually indented in the centre. The stem is hollow when cut and the orange gills on the underside will bruise to green when touched, so handle gently. Slippery Jacks have a slimey layer on the surface of the cap and a sponge-like appearance on the underside. The flesh doesn’t stain blue when cut.

When it comes to preparing the mushrooms, Ian advises keeping it simple. “You really don’t need anything more than a bit of butter and some salt and pepper, and cook the mushrooms briefly in the pan,” he advises. “You should wipe them with a damp cloth to remove any soil or pine needles rather than wash them. Slippery Jacks should also be peeled before cooking.”

Mushroom Farming

A short distance into the particular forest Ian has chosen for this excursion, we start to spot mushrooms by the side of the road. Ian explains that this is a common occurrence as the grassy cover and dappled light make an ideal growing environment. Within minutes of the first harvest and with Ian’s gimlet eye, we managed to line a small carton with our first haul and we very quickly had gathered sufficient mushrooms for two dinners for two, plus a few more to share. Ian remarks that three people on his previous tour managed to fill six boxes, which estimates would have amounted to about 10 kilograms of mushrooms.

“Mind you, they were collecting for pickling and preserving,” he says. “And the weather has been perfect for growing them. We’re not always so lucky.”

Ian has deep roots in the district as his family has long connections with Rydal. He’s a natural in the tour-leading business, particularly for off-road adventures such as foraging. A motor mechanic in his first life, his first car was a 4WD and he’s always enjoyed off-the-beaten-track adventures. His grandfather, Ken Cale, was an early Blue Mountains tour guide, who took busloads of tourists from the grand hotels of Katoomba and Medlow Bath to Jenolan Caves from 1923 to 1973. “He’d go around the accommodation venues at night and chat with people sitting around the fire,” Ian says. “Pretty soon, he’d have filled his bus with passengers for the next day.”

Ian at Detour Adventures

Ian swapped his trade for a degree in finance and a career as a certified financial planner, until nine years ago, when he realised there were no proper tours of the attractions of Bathurst and its surrounding villages. He started a local tour company, which he has subsequently sold, but continued with his first love of four-wheel driving. As well as the mushroom tours, he takes visitors to the region’s more remote and rugged destinations in the national parks and other hard-to-get-to spots, and will happily tailor trips for special interests.

When we’ve harvested perhaps a tad more than might be considered reasonable, the trip back to Oberon is filled with Ian’s inside knowledge on the not-to-be-missed locations in his home country. Then suddenly he announces he needs to make a quick stop. Turns out the divinely damp forest breeds leeches almost as effectively as it grows mushrooms and we’ve pulled up so he can get rid of a particularly keen sucker that’s feasting on his leg. “Ah, yes,” he exclaims cheerily as he gets back in the car. “The last rule of the forest is always carry salt. It’s still the best way to deal with unwelcome passengers.”

For more information on Detour Adventures, visit detouradventures.com.au.

Photography Ken Brass & Ian Redpath

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