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Product of the week: mousserons

Categories: Product of the week

Tiny, sweet mushrooms that are growing in abundance, thanks to all that rain

“Mousserons are relatively straightforward,” says regular Borough blogger and expert forager Tim Maddams—before launching into an explanation of just how and why they grow in the way they do, and taste the way they do, that is loaded with more detail than most of us would imagine such a tiny mushroom could possess.

Mousserons are also known as fairy rings, because they grow in rings, “although they’re not the only mushroom to do so, lots of mushrooms do”. The reason for this is that, while each mushroom may appear to be an individual organism, the members of the colony are connected to each other by a hidden mass of mycelium—a web of branching white filaments that draw nutrients from the substrate. “Mushrooms are really just the fruit—like the apples on an apple tree—except you can’t see the tree because it’s underground,” explains Tim. The ring shape is caused by centre of the circle dying off once all the nutrients there have been used up. “The mycelium gradually works its way outwards in a ring, and new mushrooms appear.”

High sugar content
As well as producing pretty patterns, mousserons are delicious. “They’re fairly sweet because they have a naturally high sugar content,” Tim continues. They are also abundant. While we tend to think of fairy rings as a summer phenomenon, the wet weather has caused them to spring up early this year. “Mushrooms don’t operate by a calendar; they operate by conditions and we’ve had a really wet spell, which they like. It’s not unusual to find mousserons all the way from spring to late autumn, depending on the local habitat and weather patterns. They’re a very common species—if you go into a meadow at this time of year and don’t find them, it’s probably because the grass is too tall to spot them.”

We suggest saving yourself a rummage in the undergrowth and instead heading straight to Tartufaia at Borough Market. Then, once you’ve got them home, there’s no need to fiddle around brushing or peeling them. “They’re far too small to bother.” Simply pick the caps off (“The stems are edible, but they’re pretty tough and fibrous”) and use them as you would more familiar fungi.

Seasonally groovy
“I tend to just treat them very simply—the usual sort thing, popped in stews and casseroles. Or if you were to be seasonally groovy about it, you could make a nice white sauce with some meadowsweet”—a wild-growing native herb—“which is going mad at the moment.” Sautee the mushrooms with garlic, add the meadowsweet sauce and stir through pasta, or bake in a pastry. “You get that sort of honey-almond sweetness from the meadowsweet, along with the lovely mushroom-y mushroom-ness from the mousserons.”

Tim’s final suggestion is itself slightly away with the fairies. “Because of the sugar content you could probably get away with using mousserons in a dessert. If you were going to be brave, you could make a panna cotta and garnish it with a few lightly poached mushrooms—but that would be a bit of a stretch for most people! Maybe stick them on toast with some garlic and a bit of butter, I’d say.”