If you go down to the woods today, you're sure to be in for a big surprise - especially if Fanny and Johnnie are down there. They are on the look out to pick up a couple of wild ones, they just can't resist them. It's something they've done ever since World War Two when they found themselves in Warwickshire while Johnnie was invalided. Desperate times called for desperate measures. They just couldn't satisfy their needs in town, especially in Johnnies condition, so made regular visits out into nature and amongst the protection of the trees and open fields, where they suspected no-one would disturb them on their mission. That was where it was all happening, and all naturally. Nothing improper going on you'll understand, just a bit of fresh foraging for fungi.
Fanny does concede that mushrooms of all varieties, and especially buttons, cups and large flats, can be found quite easily in greengrocers and supplied by professional mushroom growers. Fanny herself prefers the kind grown naturally, untouched by human hands, and only aided by a spot of horse manure, which of course helps. Fanny says there is a lot of confusion floating around about eating wild mushrooms, which is mostly nonsense. According to her, the skins of harmless mushrooms peel away easily and in large pieces while the skin of harmful toadstools does not. Fanny isn't keen to accept responsibility for our health though, and suggests wisely we check with someone 'who knows' before we pick up any wild ones. I'm not sure if Fanny knows or not?
Fanny once fed her 'tree mushroom' soup to a great society hostess who fawned over the fungi. While complimenting Fanny she told her in an awful tone about the terrible labourers who ate those 'awful tree mushrooms' and then wondered why they were ill. She was unaware that she too was gobbling them up. The mushrooms that is, not the labourers. Presumably Fanny wasn't trying to poison her guest, but she never clarifies.
Fannys recommendation for cooking marvellous mushrooms is to do so 'sous cloche' or under glass. Not only do they benefit greatly from being prepared this was, it is also a simple but impressive way of serving them. It's new to me, and seems more than a little Heston, but what the heck. Fanny says 'cups' are best for this, with their medium size and 'ragged edge of white skin over their accordian pleated brown insides'. Fanny makes a base for the mushrooms of French Toast with a beaten egg and a little milk soaked into a thick slice of bread before it is fried. The chosen mushrooms are piled on, topped with some parsley, salt, pepper and a little cream before being covered with a cloche (or ordinary glass bowl if your purse won't stretch) and baked for 20 minutes or so. I just happen to have a cloche which I have only ever used for cakes and cheese. I never expected it would be heading oven-bound!
The Champignons sous Cloche should be served immediately, still under glass to the table, and presumably unveiled with an exaggerated theatrical flourish. Not so much Heston style smoke and mirrors, but a little puff of steam. The finished mushrooms have retained all their woodland moisture, making them very soft and spongy, and full of flavour. As you cut into them, their juices run darkly into the hot cream, herbs and pillowy eggy toast. It's a magic combination. If you weren't surprised by Fanny and Johnnie in the woods, you will be mightily mystified by these miraculous mushrooms. So, go now, abandon your dreary dinner guests and run off in search of some wild ones of your own.