Recently I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in south Dorset. As well as a bit of foraging on the coast, I visited a farmer near Bridport called George Streatfeild.
As someone who lives in a city and visits the countryside to walk, explore and write about, I always find it refreshing to actually meet someone who makes a living directly from the land.
And George, obligingly, revealed just how much he loved working on this dairy farm in this fabulous countryside of hills and coombes, where he makes Denhay cheddar. Quite a few farmers that I’ve met have been very forceful in setting out why their lives are tough.
But they then struggle to articulate anything positive about why they are working in the outdoors every day for a living. George, however, seemed genuinely uplifted by the idea that he did spend a large part of his life in beautiful surroundings.
After a fabulous bacon breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen (from George’s own pigs, which he farms in Devon), George drove me to the top of a steep hill on his land, where we looked down on the patchwork of his fields, barns, cottages, copses and lanes.
He was happily pointing out a herd of his cows heading to fresh pastures when he suddenly put the car into gear and we lurched across the meadow. Stopping equally suddenly, he opened his door and with a smooth scooping action picked up a football and lobbed it into my lap.
Except it wasn’t a football but something more akin to the head of an orc from the recent Lord of the Rings films. A lumpy, skull-like fungus: a puffball. “They’re delicious,” George grinned. “It’s your lucky day.”
I carried it home on the train to Bristol; a deep, delicious mushroomy smell filling the carriage. Several people commented on it but I kept my orc’s head hidden.
Back home, I cut it into thick steaks as the various online recipes suggested and fried each one in butter until golden and tantalizing. And then I ate a slice.
And my instant response was very far from favourable. Revulsion would be mild. It was like eating a disc of mushroom-flavoured marshmallow; soft, slimy and with the musty flavour of mouse armpits. I ate several slices, trying to overcome this disgust. But it was to no avail – this was one free, foraged item that would defeat me.
I will never be friends with the puffball. Sorry George but thanks for the great day.