On the hunt for mushrooms and a day in the countryside

Mushroom hunting – not gathering, but hunting.

Mushroom hunting – not gathering, but hunting.

It’s about being on the hunt for all shapes, sizes and colours of mushrooms, your senses alert and your eyes wide open, winding your way through fields or woodlands in search of the delightful little forms that are all around if you know how and where to look.

And it’s part of a new series of courses being run at Lavistown House on the Sion Road a couple of miles outside Kilkenny city.

Two day-long sessions on mushroom hunting are being held this month: one this Saturday and the other on October 20, although the latter is already booked out. They will then be followed by courses on basket making in November and Christmas decorations with natural materials in December, leading up to a full calendar of courses in 2013.

They are all being held in Lavistown House’s new Centre for Creative Living – to which the final touches were added just last week, in fact.

Over the years, such courses have been run by proprietors Olivia and Roger Goodwillie and are now being passed on to the next generation, Claire Goodwillie and her partner, Des Doyle.

In 2013, they are planning to offer courses in subjects such as gardening, felting, crafts, painting, meditation, cooking and beekeeping, in addition to seasonal garden walks.

“The idea is that it’s a day away from your kids, partner, work, boss – whatever,” Des explains of the ethos of the courses, part of which is to take the time for yourself in a peaceful setting in the countryside, to get away from it all by just enjoying the day. “And you learn the basics of a skill.”

And although people have less money now than they had during the boom years, what they are finding in offering the courses is that people have more time and are more thoughtful in how they spend both their money and their time.

“People are getting out of the loop of ‘work, money, work, money, work, money.’ They are saying, ‘I have worked so hard for the last 10 years and what did I work for?’” Des says.

In the meantime, there are many people who never learned how to cook or how to garden, and who don’t know how simple both of them can be.

“You just need to understand the soil,” Des says of planning a garden. “It’s like learning a language – for example, this is the kind of soil I have, this is a plant that needs full sun so I am not going to put it under a tree. People think they can’t do it, but really they can.”

Taster

To get a feel for what the courses are like, I headed out to Lavistown House last week for a taste of what the mushroom hunting involves.

Armed with a wicker basket, Des and I set off on a stroll through some of the 20-acre farm’s fields and woodlands. The courses themselves are led by Roger, who is a mushroom expert, but even on this occasion we manage to spot two mushroom heads in very little time, one on a tree stump and another beneath the leaves. (Well, to be honest, Des spots them, my novice eyes not yet accustomed to seeing into the nooks and crannies of tree stumps and branches and underneath piles of leaves.)

The ones we do find, though, are marvellously diverse in their shapes and sizes. At one point we spot a growth of bracket fungi several feet wide, with other varieties nestled beneath their overarching tops.

Not all mushrooms are edible, of course, and some are highly poisonous, but with the help of an exert guide it is possible to gather up several types that can be eaten – and which are, in fact, cooked and eaten at the end of the actual courses.

One puffball variety we spot – about six inches long and four inches wide, with a suede-like texture – would have been edible in its younger days, for example, but not at the age it is now.

In all we manage to find four types of mushroom, which we bring back to Olivia for analysis – a core part of the course as well, so that participants can more fully understand exactly what it is that they’ve found.

Ultimately the only way to know whether a mushroom is edible or not is to be familiar with the various varieties, Olivia says. “If anybody tells you, ‘If they’re white or yellow or have a bulb or if they make a silver spoon turn purple...’ – none of that is reliable.”

All the better to have a knowledgeable guide such as those at Lavistown House.

For updates on future courses, see www.lavistownhouse.ie.