Alexander and Caroline have been fantastic assets for the MAXwell Centre and Garden using their foraging skills to help our community identify edible and non edible mushrooms in Tentsmuir Nature Reserve. This is a very special place for them and they have been kind to share their lovely story, experiences and many interesting facts too! They have also given us 2 favourite recipes and some tricks for cooking your mushrooms.
Manuela interviewed Alexander, although Caroline was close by. She is expecting a baby girl any time soon now! Update!: welcome Elizabeth, born the 2/12/2020 ❤ ❤ ❤ Congratulations from us all!
“SCOTLAND BROUGHT US TOGETHER”
“We brought ourselves to Dundee to be together, actually. We have known each other since we were kids and were separated for a long time, this was the reason”. Caroline was born in Poland, Alexander in Ukraine but they both grew up in Poland.
After studying in St Andrews and a postgraduate in Abertay, Alexander spent some time in London which was at times overwhelming. A couple of friends in Glasgow invited him up to Scotland: “Come and stay with us and see if you like it” and he did! Caroline joined him here.”I made it work, I like that the area is quiet, not such a big city and closer to nature. We live in Tayport, next to Tentsmuir nature reserve, but if you want activity you can just drive across the bridge to Dundee for the cinema, meet friends at the restaurant. Edinburgh is also very close.”
Alexander is also interested in Dundee’s architecture and history “I was surprised it was such a vibrant, important city whilst now its more on the quiet side. People are generally nice although they keep to themselves and it is difficult to get into their circles compared to where I come from. It took me years to get used to it but I accepted this is how it is. On the other hand, people you don’t know will say “Hi” when you walk by them which we don’t do in Poland. Eventually you learn its a different culture.
“THE MAXWELL GARDEN … IT’S HEALING”
When I first saw the MAXwell garden, which is beautiful, it reminded me of the best part of being in London, where there are many well kept gardens with beautiful trees and plants. I feel that in Scotland people don’t seem to care as much for their gardens. Just cutting grass!
I like how the MAXwell garden surrounds you with edible plants that you can grow yourself. Not so many people know about growing your own bu it seems to be becoming more trendy. For me the garden is an inspiration, it made me feel I want to have a garden, my own garden and I did start to grow a few things at home.
Just to be in it, sit for a moment in the quiet. Its healing. People need the healing power of nature.
“HAPPY TO SHARE” FORAGING FOR MUSHROOMS IN TENTSMUIR
Alexander offered to guide different groups of MAXwell centre users and volunteers around Tentsmuir, revealing beautiful spots and exploring for mushroom, or a “Quiet hunt” as he calls it. “When you look for mushrooms with a group, you soon notice that people stop talking and concentrate. Its like a secret. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, people are exposed to nature and edible and free plants, its not only the mushrooms, there are herbs and berries you can also forage. But mushrooms are great for food over the winter months and have amazing flavours. I wouldn’t recommend people doing it by themselves though unless they have the knowledge. Even the inedible mushrooms are beautiful and you can photograph them and learn how, for instance, some are used by animals for medicine or food which is why you should never spoil or kick them”
GROWING, FORAGING AND COOKING
My favourite food has to be mushrooms but I also love all vegetable and fruits; pears, tomatoes, berries, herbs…I love the elder tree as you can get the elderflowers that makes delicious syrup that can either cool you down or warm you up but also elderberries.
I have so many plants I love… fireweed (rosebay willowherb) for example is a common weed here, it grows everywhere. In Russia it is used as tea, fresh as green tea or dried as black tea. It is full of antioxidants and vitamins. Russia used to compete with the trade coming from China and India export it to England, it is known as “Ivan chai”.
I think many people in Scotland may have a fear of foraging because they haven’t grown up with it. People need to grow or forage themselves, dig out the food you grew, touch the soil (which has many proved benefits too) When I see a cherry tree I know exactly what it is. When I recognise the arch of the branches, the leaves or the fruits that I know, I can’t be scared.
TWO EASY RECIPES WITH MUSHROOMS
These recipes I’m sharing are super easy to make and full of flavour. I’ve learnt them through my travels. Remember to always cook mushrooms with butter not oil as it brings out the flavour much better.
Chanterelle and scrambled egg
This is a very popular dish in Eastern Europe, chanterelle mushrooms are very fresh, you can smell the minerals, they sometimes even smell of peach
Salt and pepper
Parsley or dill
Put some butter on the frying pan and sauté the mushrooms not too long, just until they have softened (chanterelles can even be eaten raw!)
As soon as they are getting softer add the eggs. Once these are set and off the hob, add salt and pepper and fresh herbs.
Porcini with polenta and blue cheese
This is an Italian recipe I learnt from friends on my travels.
For this recipe you can use any mushroom from the boletus family, Boletus edulis, birch bolette, slippery jack (always peel of the slimy skin from the top of slippery jack as it’s not good for your guts)
Blue cheese (half a slice)
Black pepper and salt
Cook your polenta
Sauté the boletus with butter and black pepper
Arrange on dish with polenta and chees on top of polenta or by the side and fresh parsley sprinkled over the top.