Morels and Asparagus

England's finest morels and asparagus

Stroud is twenty five miles from Bristol and on a quiet Saturday when the population of Bristol seems to have vanished elsewhere for the Easter break, you can be there in under half an hour. It has an award winning Farmers Market which is so successful that it now sets up its stalls every Saturday morning.

Stroud has a long and interesting history; it is an old market town, on which five valleys converge,  sitting at the Western edge of the Cotswolds. You can read a good synopsis of its history as a cloth and mill town, and its current reputation as a centre for artists and alternative living here on Wikipedia.  There’s more about the producers who have stalls at the Stroud market here.

Blanket label from Days Mill, Stroud, Cotswolds

I first came  here a long time ago when Days mill was still working – so that tells you how old I am –  I have an old blanket that I bought as a student which has been draped on either bed or sofa ever since, which came from the millshop;  it’s getting a bit holey now but I am very attached to it, my comfort blanket.

Yesterday the market was packed full with stalls and shoppers; the town sparkled in the warm sunshine and it was pretty much perfect.

I was delighted to find a forager, Rupert Burdock,  advertising his guided walks, with a little stall full of samples of what ‘is about’ right now! Some wild herbs I knew like my old friend the wild garlic, but he had alexanders, watermint, flowering dead nettles, and many more. He also had two bowls of morels that had been brought to him to sell by someone else.  I have never seen fresh morels and got very over-excited and chattered away, about the different sorts of morels and what trees they liked to grow under.

A small crowd gathered and the forager demonstrated to a small boy how to eat fresh nettles. We watched wide-eyed as he carefully folded the nettle leaf inside-out into a small package and then popped it in his mouth and solemnly chewed away. Firewalking has nothing on nettle munching for excitement!

I really wanted to stay and go on the foray later, hopefully another time. Instead I just went into consumer mode;

I bought a big chunk of one of my favourite hard cheeses,  Single Gloucester, some of the first early English asparagus, a few precious morels, and a bag of Stroud Foragers Pesto, together with two fine Tuscan sausage handraised pies, a dozen small pullets eggs, purple sprouting broccoli, some lavender bodycream from a lovely lady called Herbylicious, and would have carried on and on I suspect. Lots of plant stalls, jewelry and crafts, fine woolens, bread stalls,  lovely second hand book shops.  There are some fantastic craft shops in Stroud too, with artworks and craftworks by local artists and makers, lots of cafés and places to sit and hang out;  we were treated to tapas and baklava at Nine by the friends we had gone to visit.

On our way back, with my fungi treasure, we stopped at this great shop with its fabulous collection of Victorian bottles and clockwork trains.

When we got back to the car Brian rushed off to take a picture of this very important piece of Railway history – The Great Western Railway Transfer Shed!

For supper we had steamed asparagus with a little butter and lemon juice and a scrunch of black pepper and sea salt, morels on toast with a little garlic and parsley, and two handsome pies. Who needs more than this when there are farmers’ markets like these and you can go home and dine on the finest produce that England has to offer?

39 thoughts on “Morels and Asparagus

  1. Jeannette

    That looks like a very enjoyable day out with a lovely meal at the end of it! I’ve never tasted fresh morels, are they good? I’ve only used the dried ones.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      It was great fun Jeannette – the morels are good, have that distinctive wild mushroom flavour. I used to do a bit more mushrooming than I manage these days and I read the mushroom books over and over again, and you very rarely see most of the fungi you read about, so when you finally do see them, it is quite exciting, like meeting a celebrity, someone whose face is familiar. That sounds odd, but do you know what I’m getting at? I’d much rather find them myself of course ;)

  2. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Wonderful day out, and so much treasure! I hope you go back for a forage one day – would love to see where he goes and what he uncovers. Bottles, trainsheds, and then a supper of fresh produce, simply cooked, on some of your gorgeous bread – sounds like a perfect day to me… :)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Celia, I am sure you would like Stroud, it’s very relaxed and friendly. I keep reading about all these build your own earth oven and come forage with me type weekends, and wondering if an over excitable poodle is compatible with being mellow in a yurt….

  3. bagnidilucca

    I had never seen fresh morels until yesterday either. We stopped in St Tropez on our way back from Spain and there was a Saturday morning market where we browsed for a while. One stand had morels, green, white and purple asparagus. I bought the asparagus, which we ate last night, but I didn’t know what to do with the morels so I didn’t buy them – what a pity, yours look great.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      That is a pity, maybe there will be some in Tuscany though? They are hollow inside and you simply slice them up and use like you would any wild mushroom, in my Roger Philips mushroom book there is a mushroom called Caesar’s Amanita, which only grows in Europe; have you ever come across it? I think they are one of the ones that are not recommended for eating raw. Your asparagus sounds divine though :)

  4. C

    Sounds like a wonderful day Joanna. I love days like that where you visit a market and come away completely inspired by the amazing produce and with lots of little things from different stalls. It always feels like I’m buying myself presents rather than food, certainly in comparison to supermarket shopping!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      You describe it really well C – it’s a different sensory experience too, the packaging, presentation, sounds, smells; I would love to go to a farmers market and be able to buy grain, or get it freshly ground there. I wonder if anyone does that at a Farmers Market? the irony being that markets are often held near or at the old Corn Exchanges…

      1. cityhippyfarmgirl

        I love that feeling of satisfaction you get shopping at the markets. I open my fridge, smile contentedly and then close it again… I definitely don’t do that after shopping at the supermarket.

  5. Tutak

    Move to Stroud, it sounds lovely. So glad you had a good day out. This is a beautifully written blog.

  6. Joanne Jones

    What a wonderful farmers market! We are still way to0 cold to even think about local grown foods, unless of course you have a greenhouse! It’s on my list of wants. The morels should be out in about a month here, and some years we even have them grow right on our property. They are a wonderful treat, and draw people from all over to come just to pick them from the forests around us. We have a few others that grow here, but morels are the ones that are prized.

    I really miss the fresh produce we grew when living in California. It grew nearly year round and was all organic, best part it was in my back yard! You seem to have all sorts of choices for bread and fresh vegetables. All I can say is yummy!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      That would be so exciting to have them grown on your property – I know a spot in Cumbria where the chanterelles grow all along a fence in the summer year after year, but it’s a long way to go to collect them :) We get a lot of choice here, most of the year round, but many of the vegetables are imported. This is still known as the ‘hungry gap’ in terms of home grown produce. Polytunnels in Europe and countries like Kenya and Egypt, and earlier in the year we get asparagus all the way from Peru. Strange world….

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Joys indeed Brydie! – I always enjoy your market posts too and I love opening the fridge and finding all the market treasures and then it’s back to normal for the rest of the week – :D

  7. drfugawe

    The morels on the table are quite large by our standards – I’ve never seen one in the woods the size of those – and Oregon is morel country. Sadly, not in my woods, but if I go east 50 miles, I’d be in morel country.

    I have 3 giant sprouting broccoli plants in the garden right now – they really give a huge production. Mine have an unusual culture- you grow them from seed one summer, and let them grow right through the winter, and they fruit in the spring – the longest growing plant I have.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi Doc, here is the reference for the ones I enjoyed at the weekend
      They are usually between 6 – 20 cms high, the ones we had were around 10 cms tall. From what I read they are have association, like so many fungi, with particular trees; alder, ash, a habit of appearing on burnt ground. Someone wrote on a mushroom forum of finding them in the chip bark on her neighbour’s garden. One day maybe…

      Is your broccoli the purple variety? Like this ?purple broccoli

      1. drfugawe

        Yeah, the type of morels that fruit in burn sites are far and away the most abundant type here (helps when you live in a place where thousands of acres/hectares of forest burn every year!). I don’t bother going because it uses a lot of gas, and we have many, many professional pickers who get a bit testy if you pick on ‘their’ land.

        Yes, I have a purple sprouting broccoli growing – it’s in prime production right how, and I’ll feature it in my next post – I love that stuff.

  8. Amanda

    I love a good farmer’s market and this one looks like a winner to me. Did you try out the nettles yourself?
    We have recently had a big mushroom buzz here in Adelaide with the first ever wild-grown porcini mushrooms going on sale through the local mushroom man. Porcini are not known to have grown here and the location of these mushies is a major secret, but all the chef’s in town are very excited!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I read about that on your blog Amanda! Amazing and very exciting for mycophiles and chefs – I wonder how they got there?

      No, I didn’t eat a raw nettle parcel – but I have eaten blanched nettles, in soup and risotto and Carl has written a great nettle gnocchi post this Spring here which I am very interested in trying. Young nettle tops are the easiest, I think they get a bit coarse as they get older. But I’m no good at picking them, I did it one Spring with two pairs of gloves on, and even then I felt as if I was getting stung!

      1. sgratch

        I used a bag turned inside out to pick nettle tops today – forgetting about the little holes they put in them these days to prevent suffocation! My fingers are still tingling.

        1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

          I tried the other day using my eco bio degradable dog bags and they are nettle sting permeable too ;) It’s serious gloves or nothing – Don’t know how that guy ate that nettle….

  9. Yvette

    Such wonderful fresh and colourful produce…everything looks so tempting,I love the aroma’s and perfumes of fresh markets and each store seller always, but always has a particular style and character to sell their wares..I’ve never eaten morels, something on the long list of things to try!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi Yvette, lovely to hear from you :) you will get porcini later I am sure.. I think morels are popular because they arrive in the Spring and because of the way they look, the flavour is good but it’s not something that I would necessarily pick out of a bunch of wild fungi as unique but my taste buds aren’t that sophisticated. They certainly didn’t have the perfume of the chanterelle for example. They have a brittle, slightly waxy quality when you slice them up :)

  10. heidi

    Those are the largest morels I’ve ever seen!
    I would love to go on a forage. My brother and I used to do that when we were younger- then he moved across the country and my husband is a go to the supermarket kind of guy! What a lovely day you had- I love Farmer’s Markets- ours won’t start until June.

  11. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Good Morning Heidi, it’s finding the time isn’t it? and you need a foraging companion in the woods, I totally agree :)

    I used to do far more when I lived in the south-east of the country than I do now. I think your morels must be a different variety to the ones that grow here, because Doc says these look big to him too! Our supermarkets sell cultivated ‘wild mushrooms’, I don’t usually buy them but I imagine they are quite popular or why would they sell them?

  12. Elaine

    Great blog Joanna – you certainly brought the market to life. It made me feel as if I was seeing it for the first time as even though it is on our doorstep we very rarely go and now I will be a far more regular visitor. Your enthusiasm is catching!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Elaine, we had such a great time with you both – I’m still sparkling – and still pondering the inscrutable morel and where to find them. I had a look for alexanders in the woods yesterday but no sign of them, but I met a dogwalking acquaintance who is a botanist and she said they could be found everywhere on the Downs, so I might pop up and look later. Hope to see you again soon xxx

  13. jan trounce

    What a lovely market. The purple cauliflower is so pretty. I would love to go ‘a foraging’ what a treat that would be – but do you suppose, people being people, and all that, we would end up rushing at mushrooms, elbows out and swiping at each other, like the January sales? I love your comment about an excitable poodle and a yurt – of course they would be compatible – over excited dogs, do, after all, run round in circles. I hope you go back to that market, I would love to see more.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hee hee Jan! the competiiveness would be much more subtle than that I suspect. More on the lines of spotting your mushroom cluster, casually covering it up with a leaf or two, standing in front of it and loudly saying, whilst looking in the opposite direction,” That looks like a promising clump of beech trees over there” ;) Besides mushroom hunters are notoriously secretive and go to great lengths to make sure no one follows them to their ‘patch’. On a foray I suspect they make you look at lots of inedible and poisonous mushrooms, both for practical reasons and to try and restrain the gathering urge….

  14. sgratch

    Looks/sounds like a fantastic market. Great write-up/photos as always.

    I’m still a pretty timid forager, think it’s about time I did some kind of course. Do you have a link/contact for the forager/his walks?

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Geraint, I’m sorry I don’t. He was, I think, a one man operation and fairly informal. However I did come across Westley Farm when I was looking on Google for more info on morels when I wrote this post and thought that looked interesting. If and when I go back up to Stroud I will get some more info, or maybe their farmers market site has contact details for him? Sometimes local herbalists also take people out on walks, I have an acquaintance in Bristol who does that. And if it’s fungi you are interested in, then the best thing is to hook up via one of the specialist fungi groups and go out with them.

      Timid is good, particularly where fungi are concerned, of course :)

      1. Geraint

        Right, and not just for fungi; always check before eating anything you’re not sure of: we brought something home that looked really appetising, a bit like celery… turned out it was hemlock!

        Thanks for the tips. Westley Farm has some interesting courses (inc., I note, an oven building weekend), but couldn’t find the forager on the Stroud Market website.

  15. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Geraint – mm hemlock, glad you checked! For you – I’ve googled furiously and I think this is he – Rupert Burdock – I put in ‘stroud forager’ and found this article and I think this is him, but not 100% sure. A walk noted on Facebook last week maybe a way to hook up through there?

    Got it! It’s under the other part of the Stroud market, the Shambles part is listed separately – hadn’t thought of that :)

    I’ve updated the post with his name and the link :D

  16. Nip it in the bud

    what a fab write up of a wonderful Stroud institution.
    We love Days Apple Juice and you can just see Dave on his stall in the background of the bread stall. I don’t think there is anything he doesn’t know about apples! They propogate and sell fruit trees from old or unusual apple varieties and also run courses on pruning or grafting trees.
    Morels were a new one on me and I love the simplicity of the way you cooked them. Asparagus is so delicious it doesn’t warrant too much fuss

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