A bittersweet time of year; summer drawing to a close with ever-shortening days, chilly mornings and a nip in the evening air. The garden shouts for attention, leaves littering the lawn whilst the draw of a cosy fireside supper-on-a-tray has its appeal. During the heat of high summer, these days seem so far away but warning bells sound as an abundant selection of fungi, preferring cool damp woodlands and meadows to grow, begin to appear at the market. I would love to say that I foraged for mushrooms but sadly, I haven’t yet plucked the courage to do so, relying instead on a couple of reputable market stalls. Buy fresh and young, cooking them as soon as possible but they should be stored in paper, not plastic, in a cool dark place.

Easily identifiable, the common field mushroom has been gathered throughout history and because of mass cultivation, they remain the most popular variety. Modern European cultivation dates back to mid-17th century melon growers in the Paris region when it was discovered that melon-beds provided an ideal growing environment. This led to the 19th century development of mushroom growing in ‘caves’. These caves were generally abandoned quarries in the Paris and Loire Valley regions of France and provided a stable, cool, damp atmosphere and, it is due to the large-scale production around Paris, that the name ‘Champignon de Paris’ came into existence.

Many varieties of mushroom are cultivated throughout the world but the wild species retain the best flavour. The addition of reconstituted, dried mushroom can help counterbalance this deficit and likewise, flavours such as Parmesan, bacon, garlic and lemon can perk up a humble supermarket specimen. An indulgent comfort food of ours is to enjoy a creamy mushroom risotto and though the recipe here specifies porchini (cep) it is equally delicious with any favourite mélange. I can’t resist the pretty forest girolles and the tiny horn of plenty, though the latter that typically grows close to hazel and beech trees has a rather unnerving name in France; they are known as the ‘trompette des morts’.

As part of next weekend’s community initiative I have been asked to produce several recipes using produce from local suppliers and the following is a sneak preview of a recipe that’s based on the common field mushroom. Saturday 18th October is the brainchild of Birte and Sophie, the ladies behind Autoour de Toi and will focus on collaborative support of community events, sharing of services and local small businesses.

Mushroom & Walnut Paté
Serves 6

Airily light yet packed with flavour, this pate encompasses the essence of autumn. Serve with a crisp green salad for a tasty lunch or with fine slices of toasted baguette as an accompaniment to aperitifs.

  • 15g dried mushrooms
  • 30g walnuts
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 300g mushrooms, chopped
  • Large pinch dried thyme
  • 1tbsp sherry or brandy
  • Sea salt & freshly milled pepper
  • 150g tub cream cheese at room temperature

Put the dried mushrooms into a measuring jug and top up to 150ml with boiling water; set aside to cool.

Over a medium heat, toast the walnuts in a heavy based frying pan. Remove and keep to one side. Add the oil to the pan, turn down the heat a little then adding the shallot and garlic, gently and sweat until they are soft but not coloured. Stir in the mushrooms.

Roughly chop the now reconstituted mushrooms, adding to the pan along with their soaking liquid and continue to cook until everything is tender. Stir from time to time as the liquid evaporates, adding the thyme, sherry and seasoning, until no liquid remains. Allow to cool. Add half of the walnuts to the mushroom mixture and finely chop the remainder.

Blitz the mushroom mixture with a hand blender or liquidizer until smooth. Beat the cream cheese to loosen then add the mushrooms and remaining walnuts. Mix together, check seasoning and chill.

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