Thursday, 6 March 2008

Blackfella's Bread





















M works in the Otways. He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK. While clearing what’s left of our old growth forests he stumbled upon this extraordinary fungus buried under the ground and he thought I might like to see it. M also fishes for snapper and despite his rather controversial profession is a food lover at heart. I had read about “Blackfella’s" Bread, seen photos but I have never tasted one. I emailed a picture to, and called Our Man at the Herbarium Tom May for a positive identification. I cannot stress too strongly the dangers of indiscriminate fungi tastings. Even with this unique specimen I wanted to be sure I had a positive identification and that it was safe. I had not spoken to Tom for a couple of years but he reassured me it was definitely Laccocephalum mylittae and sent an extract of his contribution to a new cookbook about to be published by the International Mycological Society….
In south-eastern Australia, few fungi have been recorded as eaten by Aboriginal people, perhaps through lack of the right questions being asked by mycophobic English settlers. One of the exceptions is Native Bread, the sclerotium of Laccocephalum mylittae, which is reported as being eaten across Victoria and Tasmania under a variety of names, such as the 'Boee Wan' of the Tjapwurong people of western Victoria (Kalotas, Fungi of Australia 1B). A polypore fruit-body is produced from the sclerotium after bushfires, at which time the sclerotium shrivels. The deeply buried sclerotia can reach 30 cm in diameter, and were detected by Aboriginal people by the smell of rotting wood associated with the fungus (which forms a brown rot). Nowadays sclerotia are typically found when recently cleared land is ploughed. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a rather bland flavour, like boiled rice. Nevertheless, Native Bread has been enjoyed by forest workers as a hearty meal around the campfire.

Now; what was I to do with it? It has the texture of a rubber ball, quite solid but slightly pliant and I decided to bake it whole in foil to see if really had any flavour. Well Tom was right, bland is a bit of an understatement but at least it was neutral nothing unpleasant. Salt did little to improve it, honey the same but somehow it gave you the impression that if you were to eat it all it would be very filling.
I guess if I was to follow the locavore path I could pair it with a couple of Barwon River Crayfish and the “bread” would be good to mop up the juices of its roe.

But the find was of some importance. There is a project based in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne called the Australian Fungimap Project. It focuses on 100 target species of fungi that are being watched by professional and amateur mycologists to chart the habits of these extraordinary wonders of nature. This is one of the target species.
I fear that it will be a lean year for mushrooms due to the drought but never the less its always fun hunting.

Check out the site..link here http://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/fungimap.html

9 comments:

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

It almost looks like tripe in the photos George!
I have used a 'kind of' accidental truffle that has occured in the spanish hazelnut trees that were planted by an Italian in the hills around Kettering.
They do not have the pungency of 'real' truffles but eaten fresh they come close.
For instance, placed with fresh eggs, they'll absorb enough aroma & flavour to have the most hardened truffle aficianado questioning their provenace.
One of the jewels that you glean from staying in one place for a period, long enough to see whats really out there, below the surface, so to speak!

grocer said...

fascinating!

Stephanie said...

Oh George...how the memories are flooding back of our excursion all those years ago!

stickyfingers said...

Sensational post George, it's always fascinating to learn new things. I wonder if you could use it in a braise/claypot dish for texture - like wood ear fungus and snow fungus - as the Chinese do?

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Yes I guess you could use them for texture. Tom also mentioned in his note that both loggers and indegenous people used them for survival as they contain quite a bit of nutricious starches. He also said that loggers would carve them much like scrimshaw into decorative and useful items like candle holders as they dry to stone-like hardness with time and can be polished . These pieces are rare but some are in important collections of folk art. On another outing with Teresa Lebel also from the Melbourne Botty G showed us native truffle. Apparently we have over 1000 varieties of these that she is researching in Melbourne. Tom once said that we are losing species before we can even identify them. He is co-ordinating the Fungi of Australia Project much like the Flora of Australia project, it will take about 40 years to complete. I will post regularly on local fungi and will continue to hold a couple of forays this year despite the dry conditions.

Anonymous said...

George I think you should try braising it with a medium sized Goanna. the fat in the Goanna will provide more than enough flavour. If you cant get your hands on a Goanna then about thirty or forty small skinks should do. dflclancy.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hello Mr Clancy.
Not many goannas or skinks at the moment but could try Bilson's recipe for Black Swan.
Nice to see someone reading between the lines.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hello Mr Clancy.
Not many goannas or skinks at the moment but could try Bilson's recipe for Black Swan.
Nice to see someone reading between the lines.

Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines, But also thinking what the Blackfellas would do. Either fill the gut cavity of the goanna with the funghi or fill the funghi with small flavoursome critters . then either way you cook it in coals or ashes. Maillard will happen. Clancy