‘The forest floor at Emery Down was a carpet of penny buns.’
In her dementia my mother’s short-term memory was shot. As is usual in such cases she had perfect if increasingly repetitive recall of weekends three-quarters of a century before, when my grandparents would drive her and her sister, my future aunt, from Southampton in their newly acquired car to the New Forest, there to gather or hope to gather penny buns, a fungus that predates even Signor Carluccio. Today they are of course better known as ceps or cèpes or porcini on the grounds that they taste better if provided with a foreign handle. Ambling through woods on the qui vive for whatever they are called is pleasurable even when you encounter ‘professional’ pickers, sharp-faced bucolic low-lifes staggering under the weight of their baskets and greed. Were it not for this cadre of thieving bastards fancy restaurants would not be able to charge the earth for minute portions of fungi they don’t know how to cook.
There are two things you can do with ceps. Whichever you choose, the fruitbodies must be cleaned. Don’t wash them but wipe with a clean cloth. Cut away any bits with earth attached to them – use a very sharp knife. Cut away any bits that are damaged by worms.
The first option is to slice them and sauté them in duck fat (or butter and olive oil) and to powder them with persillade just before they are done – take care the garlic doesn’t burn.
The second is to make a tart. This recipe is far simpler than any that I have read. As is so often the case, recipe writers – whether chefs or journalists – seem to reckon that adding ingredients adds value. This is very seldom the case.