Summer days…

Westlands’ mixed edible flower punnet

Yes, the summer months are always problematic, whether you’re off to Glastonbury or cooking up a supper club (how life changes…). The Summer Mushrooms supper club is this Saturday – it’s indoors at the Crisis Cafe, in Aldgate, but it’s floor to ceiling glass windows, ready to let in the light of a wonderful June summer’s day. Or, more likely than not, it’ll tip it down, which is when I’ll up the gin in the strawberry and cucumber flower cocktails, and warm up the salad (with chillies).

Despite the changeable weather playing with ingredient choices and milk prices doing their best to make life tough for a favourite cheese company, all is set for the seven-course supper club, and I have managed to get all of my desired wild mushroom characters – the lovely golden girolle or golden chanterelle as some call them, the mighty tasty and popular cep (porcini), those early echoes of autumn flavours in the summer black truffle and we’ve even manage to bag the ever-elusive Caesar mushroom.

preparing Caesar mushroom (5)

I’m so excited that I’ll get to share the wonders of the Caesar mushroom (pic: Courtesy of The Mushroom Book). It’s a pretty amazing feat of nature. Rustic orange on the outside bright yellow on the inside, it grows in an egg shape, with a veil of mushroomy tissue growing up from the stem and covering the sides. This makes it pretty dirt-and-bug proof inside – a bit of an anomaly in the wild mushroom world. Maybe that’s why it’s one of my favourite mushrooms… But, there’s more things to love! As well as looking a bit like a chestnut, it has a nutty, sweet and almost apricot-like taste. It’s best raw and thinly sliced, so you can enjoy all the delicate flavours. I’ll stop there, or else I’ll give my amuse bouche recipe away!

Mushroom Man, my mushroom supplier and co-author of The Mushroom Book, has sourced most of Caesars mushroomsthese mushrooms from Bulgaria and Romania, where they are prevalent at this part of the season and commercial foragers are willing to sell them. The girolles are coming from Serbia this week – they are like the flowers; bright yellow and trumpeted, and nodding to the sun and summertime.

Whatever the weather is doing, a summer menu isn’t much without some lovely British berries on the bill, and we’ll be drinking and eating them, and making the most of them. Donated to the supper club (of which the profits go to the Crisis charity), the strawberries and raspberries are beautiful Kentish product, grown on raised beds outside, with plastic roofs, on pick-your-own farm, Ladysden Farm. Picked the day before we eat them, they will be fresh and tasty – and with the albeit sporadic good levels of sunlight we have been getting, my hopes are up for sugar levels to be lovely and sweet.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 16.16.01Keeping a bit of a Kent theme, I’ll also be using Kentish heritage tomatoes – grown in Thanet Earth‘s glasshouse facility. All kinds of glorious colours and various tastes, the tomatoes will be staring in a chilled, clear gazpacho (with a mushroom twist – those truffles get everywhere; especially when I’m in charge). The team at Thanet Earth start off selecting their tomato types at Hadlow College with a student-run project growing around 70 varieties (that’s 540 plants) from all over the world, sourced by seed scout and seed breeders. Then the commercial trials at Thanet Earth takes the trials one step further to look at the product grown in a commercial environment. It currently has more than 60 new trials, which go into chef selection boxes and this year, have been newly launched into Sainsbury’s nationally this summer.

When it comes to heritage tomatoes, there are so many different shapes, from heart, pear, beef, round and oval; and colours like yellow, pink, indigo, green, brown and orange. Paired with some interesting micro leaves and flowers from Westlands’ magical production facility, this gazpacho’s going to be psychedelic (figuratively, obviously – it’s not that kind of party).

A black rice salad

It’s not all about Kent, though – we have some amazingly rich and complex Cornish Camembert for the cheese course and Cornish crab for the sea garden salad; which has some Westlands’ gems, too. The menu will also feature a rice I am obsessed with and can’t stop putting in dishes – Gallo’s black Venere rice. It’s a brilliant colour (all natural), tastes really nutty and a bit chewy, and cultivated in the Po Valley, in Italy. You can’t get it a lot of places in the UK yet, but it’s one to watch (and eat). I’ll be sharing more recipes.

The supper is also accompanied, pretty much all the way through – apart from some fab Castlebrook sparkling wine made by Ross-on-Wye asparagus grower Cobrey Farms – by neighbouring Herefordshire-based Chase Distillery.

imagesFrom the aperitif cocktail to the cheese course, we’ll be including Chase’s rhubarb vodka, grown, distilled and bottled by hand on the Chase family’s farm in Preston Wynne and a cider apple distilled gin (William’s Elegant Gin), again made with the apples from the farm, as well as the William Chase Rosé wine, which is a result of the company buying a small estate, Chateau Constantin, near Provence.


And, at the finishing line: the dessert. I’m a bit fearful of gimmick desserts – sticking with the serve-what-tastes-nice rule – so I have stayed away from popping mushrooms in any sweets, but I have a little surprise in the after-dinner chocolates, in which I’ll use the very ethical Madecasse chocolate. The rest I will leave to the imagination (or quite possibly, just to the meanderings of my kitchen).

There are still tickets left for Saturday’s supper club – book here.