Anyone for a spot of fungi foraging?

3 September 2009

Lovers of the countryside and fine food will have a field day on the 10th October during a Fungi Foray at Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa.

Guests will accompany celebrated wild mushroom hunter John Wright as he forages for edible delights in the chalk downlands and leafy woods around the gorgeous village of Evershot. The area deep in the heart of the Dorset countryside immortalised by Thomas Hardy in his Wessex novels.

The rolling hills of Dorset provide some of the best mushroom hunting grounds in England, and there’s no better guide than John. As well as writing the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook he has led around 250 fungi forays over the years and is a wonderful ambassador for the joys of this fascinating pursuit.

With John leading the foray, absolutely no previous experience is required. There will be two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning session will start at 9.30am with a short talk by John, followed by a few hours of busy exploring and foraging in the chalk downlands just a few miles from the hotel.

Once everyone has worked up a hearty appetite they’ll repair to the delightfully traditional Acorn Inn for well-earned pub lunch and to enjoy mushroom dishes such as Chanterelles, Leek, Parmesan Gnocchi, Artichoke Cream and Celeriac and Spinach Risotto, Roasted Ceps and Tarragon, starting from £12.95 per person. Before everyone tucks in John will review the morning’s harvest – some of which may then be cooked up and devoured!

The afternoon session will again start with a talk from John at 2.30pm. Then he’ll take his merry band of foragers away from the downlands, into the woodlands where several other varieties of edible mushrooms can be found. At 6.30pm everyone will gather in the hotel to examine all the different types of mushrooms, toadstools and fungi collected during the day. John will identify the mushrooms and discuss each in turn, before dinner is served in the conservatory.

Steven Titman, the Head Chef, is preparing a special mushroom-themed menu that may well include some of the specimens collected during the foray. Depending on the day’s harvest, he may be able to include Ceps, Black Trompettes or Chanterelles, or perhaps even rarer varieties.

A mouth-watering five-course fungi extravaganza at Summer Lodge is priced at £65 per person and will showcase dishes such as Roast Breast of Wood Pigeon with Caramelised Shallot Tart, Shallot Puree and Black Trompette; and Loin of Venison with Chanterelle Risotto, Roasted Butternut Squash and Madeira Jus. Eric Zweibel, world-renowned Sommelier and ‘Best Sommelier of The World Competition’ runner-up, will also team up with Steven to give a short talk about which wines are most appropriate for the feast that awaits.

Any guests staying in the hotel on Friday or Saturday night are welcome to come on the forage; both sessions are complimentary and open to non-residents. Participants may decide to forage in the morning, or the afternoon, or both. Lunch and dinner are optional, but as they will be very much part of the experience it is expected that most will decide to sample the delights of the Acorn Inn and Summer Lodge’s highly regarded kitchen and wine cellar. Those who participate in this unusual event will also have the opportunity to buy signed copies of John’s fascinating books about the edible delights of the countryside and seashore.

John comments, "Foraging for your food is a joyful enterprise, but it is in the nature of such things that sometimes one's prey will not co-operate. The weather may have been too dry or too cold and the fungi may be keeping their heads down. I have chosen the date to give us the very best chance and I think we should do well - my best guess is that we will find around 40 species including up to 10 edible ones."

Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, set in four acres of perfectly maintained gardens, is the epitome of the English country house in the picturesque Dorset village. This luxurious 24-bedroom 5-star hotel has swiftly earned a reputation as one of England’s finest country house hotels. With a world class spa - including indoor heated pool and rejuvenating body and beauty treatments - and award-winning restaurant and world class wine list created by one of the world’s best sommeliers, this hotel is the perfect short break getaway. Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa is a member of Relais & Châteaux.

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