If you go down to the woods today: Foraging for mushrooms in a Polestar 2
You’ll be amazed what you can find when you start to look
When Swedish start-up car brand Polestar opened its first UK ‘Space’ recently, it needed a bunch of ingredients collecting for the goodie box that was being sent out to the journalists who couldn’t attend the launch because of joyous Covid restrictions. And that’s where I was happy to help: if delicious food is the end result, wellies and a forage in a forest are definitely worth the effort.
You see, Polestar couldn’t throw a party to mark the opening of its modern equivalent of a dealership because of the coronavirus crisis. So there was no ribbon-cutting ceremony, no dignitaries and no fanfare. Instead, this ‘vegan-as-standard’ car company chose to send out a box full of vegan canapés and other treats to enjoy at home in lieu of a party. Just like the Polestar Space isn’t a normal dealership – because you have to buy online, away from the Space, there are no hard sells – so it followed that the opening would also be unconventional.
As such, I found myself with the keys to an all-electric Polestar 2 and heading to meet rising star of the chef world, Kirk Haworth, and forager Finnian Casey in North East London. Together, we’ve been tasked with hunting for the fungi that will ultimately be turned into one element – mushroom crisps – of the media box menu.
Haworth is a celebrated vegan chef who runs Plates in London, while Casey owns The Wild Room, a wild mushroom supplier to some of the finest restaurants in the land. Both are enthusiasts for food that is picked and eaten quickly, with freshness being key to what they offer in their businesses. They both take a holistic approach to their food, moving the conversation one step back from ‘you are what you eat’ into more of an approach based around the fundamentals of the way that food is prepared and harvested. Haworth says that, “a vegan diet has transformed my life and the way I cook,” helping him to manage the symptoms of Lyme Disease, which he was diagnosed with back in 2016.
Casey is similarly careful about what he eats, which is a handy outlook when you forage for mushrooms and one wrong taste can result in a trip to hospital.
Setting off on our mushroom foraging trip
As we set off from a Gail’s Bakery in Loughton, it felt strange to be donning a pair of wellies in the middle of a busy high street. But within five minutes, Haworth and Casey have spotted their first mushrooms, poking out of the grass in front of a Baptist church. Two minutes later and we are into Hainault Forest, where the real excitement begins.
All of a sudden, both Casey and Haworth come alive, eyes sharp and looking for fungi. Casey scans both the forest floor and the trees: because mushrooms form one part of the whole, linked eco-system, the trees in a wood give just as much clue as to what may be about as the floor does. Oaks are good, as are beeches and chestnuts, just fyi.
We spot our first collection of Common Puffballs nestled under an ancient oak and stoop to take a closer look. Casey has brought a sharp knife to help with the picking, but in reality most come away easily from the blanket of leaves that litter this forest floor. Because puff balls are so distinctive, and definitely safe to eat, Casey only needs to have a cursory glance to make sure they’re in good condition. With other fungi, he needs to be more wary – despite all his years of experience both foraging for himself and with his mother and step-father (both avid foragers), Casey is still hesitant about the safety of a mushroom if he’s not 100% sure. With over 15,000 species of fungi and some looking confusingly like others, he’s right to be cautious.
After our puffball spot, we stumble across mushrooms everywhere. It’s amazing how many there are, despite a first glance at the forest suggesting we’ll find very little. But as soon as you start to really study the trees and the floor, you can’t help but discover them.
Haworth has brought along a large box that looks like it would take days to fill, but within an hour it’s full to the brim. The sheer variety on offer, from a relatively small patch of forest in the middle of the UK’s largest city, is staggering. We’ve managed to find a host of brilliantly named species, like the Beefsteak Fungus, the beautifully purple Amethyst Deceiver, the Field Blewit and a Parasol, all without looking too hard. The rich smell is mouth-watering as the box is opened and bodes well for the next stage in the journey.
Time to cook up a storm
Back in the Polestar 2, we make the trip across London where the Polestar is right at home and makes light work of fighting London traffic. A lot of people are interested in the 2 – one bloke even wants a chat about it while we’re parked in a supermarket car park. We cross the Rotherhithe Tunnel knowing we’re not adding to all the exhaust fumes that choke the air in the Tunnel.
Thanks to its impressive range, the car easily has enough juice to get us to our ultimate destination: Casey’s Wild Room distribution centre, where Haworth heads straight into the kitchen. Into a frying pan goes some olive oil, the Beefsteak Fungus and a dash of salt. Two minutes later and it’s been cut into bite-size nibbles for a surprisingly filling late morning snack. Maybe it’s because it was picked less than an hour ago, or maybe it’s because we actually picked it – either way, it’s delicious. No forest walk will ever be the same again.