How to make lip balms

I notice my lips feeling a bit drier lately; the weather is turning and becoming much cooler. I searched for an old balm, and couldnt find it. I didnt want to buy a new one,  you might have read in … Continue reading

foraging nuts, preserving and recipes.

Im going to focus on hazelnuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts as I find these to be the most useful and hope to have interesting and useful things to share.

Just quickly; some of the other nuts you can forage and use are acorns, beech and pine. Personally I think they are a lot of hard work for little results though if you have a gluten free diet it might be useful to know you could make flour from acorn or chestnuts. Acorns can be high in tanins which are bad for your kidneys, so it is usually leeched out with water.

I thought it worth mentioning  here that new leaf growth in the spring from many of these trees is tasty.

You may find Beech is more useful for that rather than the teeny tiny nuts, though Im told if youre lucky enough to have a press you can make lovely oil with them . Given how I use oils this is something I would very much like to own! (If you should hear of one being thrown out remember me).

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Theres is always such a huge abundance of beech masts that everyone at some point must have thought about how they can be useful

Im talking about the 3 nuts in the order you are most likely to be finding them in the year.

Hazelnuts

The trees are more shrubs, so looking in hedgerows is a good start, I go towards the end of summer and if I find any pick them and eat them right away. When you eat nuts whilst they ae fresh and green like this, they are softer, wet and sweeter (kind of sweet in the way that carrots are) You can pick them and leave them to harden and dry to be more like the ones in the shops around christmastime

This image is from The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust http://www.ywt.org.uk/species/hazel “Hazel is recognisable by its almost circular, toothed leaves which have soft hairs on the underside, its yellow catkins, shiny, brown bark, and the crop of hazel nuts that appear in late summer.”

If you’re very lucky or you have your own trees that you a re able to keep squirel free you might find some that have dropped and some that have ripened and slightly hardened.

Check them for little holes left by the weevils, the squirels know not to eat these and there wont be anything edible inside.

Doormice also like hazel nuts and I couldnt resist sharing this very cute of photo of a sleeping one from The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Taken by Tom Chalmers

Dormouse sleeping - Tom Chalmers - Tom Chalmers

*sqeeeee!* They are one of my favourite small mammals, I delight in seeing these.

cute distraction; worth digressing for

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So this is what your hazel nuts look like.

This is from TCV website which I highly recommend.

http://treegrowing.tcv.org.uk/grow/tree-recipes/hazel ‘TheConservationVolunteers’ do these useful information pages/guides for growing your own trees.

It’s easy and you might grow your own hazel.

I was lucky enough to find some ripe and ready just waiting to be picked up from the ground!

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I shelled them with nutcrackers (ate quite a few) and then roasted the rest with a little almond oil and sea salt

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snacked on a few more

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Then stored them in honey. I think they’re nicer than salted caramel and nut brittle.

(yes I snaked on a few more..)

Inspired by such thought,  this happened:

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Recipe for ‘Nutty dessert glasses’

Ingredients

(makes x4 small glasses/bowls)

x1 tub mascarpone

about 24 hazel nuts (honey to drizzle)

400g soft brown sugar

150 ml from your bottle of hazelnut coffee porter (drink the rest wahey!)

chestnut puree (optional)

In the bottom place a few of the hazelnuts stored in local honey (you can just put shop bough ones in and drizzle them in honey)

Whip up a tablespoon of mascarpone with a good sized tablespoon of chestnut puree (recipe to follow, could add a bit of freshly squeezed orange instead or leave it plain)

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(my my nails are clean that is from peeling chestnuts -it hurts might be bruised)

I then topped with granola (making granola is easy but I took photographs and will add a recipe later, google will help in the meantime)

place in the fridge whilst you make the caramel/syrup

I used 150ml of Saltiare brewery’s  hazelnut coffee porter

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I added around 100g of brown sugar turn up the heat to get it going and then turn down to a med/high

leave it to bubble and froth for around 5 mins

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removed from the heat when its looking a bit thicker

the bubbles will die down and it should look like this

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Get your gla ss(es) from the fridge, sprinkle in granola nd then drizzle over your caramel

yum!

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Hazelnuts are also very good for baking with -bread too very nice with cheese 😉 I used walnut this way (coming next)

Walnuts

One of my favourite childhood trees was a big old walnut tree. I have recently been informed that they only produce nuts for 40 years -seems unlikely to me but then maybe my memory is influenced by the fact that I was much smaller then. It seems very old and I remember gathering and eating the walnuts, and there were always so many of them! It has been hard for me to find one producing the nuts abundantly, and even harder to beat the squirrels to them, nonethless I was lucky this year and managed a ‘haul’ of about 7. I think they’re likely the most difficult to forage.

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These are what the leaves look like there were no nuts still on to photograph, just the peeled remnants of the squirrels feast 😦

Each leaft is devided into 7-9 ‘leaflets’ whcih might be able to see there.

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The walnuts are inside a green tough skin, you can see some of the black through these, and on the peeled ones. This can be used as a natural die and ink. You might be able to see them leaking on the picture? fresh walnuts are also called wet walnuts or green walnuts. Once you crack the shell the familiar wrinkly walnut appears inside. They are much softer resh and have a much milder sweeter flavour. You can save and dry thm if you like. I nibbled on mine and baked a few in bread rolls with a traditional nettle wrapped cornish Yarg. They were delicious.

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You can google a basic white bread roll recipe -I used the hairy bikers one.

If you are lucky enough to find more it would be great to have a go at making the dyes and inks. Or you might be able to get some fresh one at farmers markets. Of course thery dont have to be fresh to be useful and you can buy them to use in recipes. Apple walnut and gorgonzola are wonderful flavours in tarts and pastries. Baklava (walnut and pistachio) not just coffee and walnut cake -but why wouldnt want to make that? 🙂 and of course pastas and salads with walnuts and cheese, and walnut and basil pesto too.

Oh and who wouldnt like to make little boats out of the shells!  http://madebyjoel.com/2010/04/walnut-boats.html

*intresting fact* The Romans associated the walnut with Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage and the wife of Jupiter. This association led to the unique wedding practice of throwing walnuts at the bride and groom as a symbol of fertility. Women often carried walnuts to promote fertility. The botanical name Juglans is derived from Jupiter’s glans.

moving swiftly on

Sweet chestnuts

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Chestnuts are one of those trees that have both male and female flowers, the female flowers become the nuts in Autumn

The ancient Greeks dedicated the sweet chestnut to Zeus and its botanical name castanea comes from Castonis, a Town in Thessaly in Greece where the tree was grown for its nuts.

I am lucky to have a patch of very well established chestnut trees producing abundant amounts each, which is within walking distance (as are all of the nuts Ive foraged this year)

I estimate I picked around 2lbs that have gone into purees/preserves, pies and have been eaten as snacks, this is a teeny tiny fraction of what falls onto the ground and rots away.

Roasting chestnuts

you can cut a cross in the flat side or a slit along the edge top to bottom, some find that easier but there is a far greater risk of slipping, thus uts harder to do whilst watching a film or something, quite tricky without a chestnut knife I found so I opted fro the cross in the flat side. You need heat and moisture to make the shells easier to work with. You can roast, boil or even wrap a handful in a damp towel and place in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I found a very hot tea towel a bit of a nuisance/pain (literally) and I prefer the flavour of roasted (which could be done after if you find them easier to peel from the microwave) If you have a lot to do it will take you longer than the oven or boiling. Theres not that much difference/if any at all in the ease of peeling with each method. Peel an eat or set aside for use (I had to put mine in the fridge overnight) soft/moist/protein, means that they could likely spoil easily. You usually use them straight away.

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The membranes can be bitter if you dont peel them off it is almost as painstaking as deseeding rosehips. I left them on for the next recipe. It didn’t taste bitter.

Chestnut preserve/jam and puree

NOTE: This recipe makes 2 batches one with milk/cream for quick-ish use (milk/cream will spoil) and one with water

300-350g of chestnuts (peeled and roasted divide into 2 pans)

2 cups milk (or cream)

2 cups of water

2 cups golden sugar

x1 vanilla pod

x4 tbspn dark rum

add the milk/cream to one pan and the water to the other and a cup of soft golden sugar to both

Bring to the boil, reduce, and simmer

when the liquid has mostly absorbed and the nuts are just going crumbly on the outsides lift them out with a slotted spoon and whizz in the food processor

cut you vanilla pod in half and scrape one half into each pan and add the rum

add the liquid from the pan to the processor, til you reach your desired consistency

(you may wish to add more boiled water/milk/cream or brandy. The water needs to be boiled if you are treating this as a preserve)

TIP: if you’re making both, start with the water one then you dont have to wash everything before doing the other! (get in)

This part is optional, I pressed my puree through a seive for a couple of jars as it has such a pleasant texture

I didnt do this for all of it as its time consuming, and seemed a little wasteful. I couldnt get it all through, what didnt go through I stirred back into mixture that I wasnt going to be seiving. If you liked tou could make 3 different grades of thickness the seives the unseived and the thicker left behind -they can have different uses. I added more rum to one of mine and we dipped toasted marshmallows in it 🙂

ladle into your warm sterilied jars and label, when cool, place in the fridge.

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Chestnut, mushroom and ale pie.

25g packet of dried porcini (or equivelant if you forage your own)

4 portobello mushrooms

packet of chestnut mushrooms

100-200g of roasted chestnuts

handful of fresh thyme or parsley

1 red onion

3 cloves garlic

100g of red camargue rice (or wild rice)

150ml of dark ale

50g butter

100g of plain or corn flour

x1 packet puff pastry (I got ready rolled and found one which stated ‘sustainable palm oil’ on, I felt dubious and glad I dont usually buy ready made)

This made me x5 little ramekin pies and this pudding bowl one. You might prefer to make a larger family sized one.

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Add your rice with water according to the packet and simmer til cooked, a darker rice with a firmer grain will add texture and bite to your pie

preheat the oven

as it cooks add the buttter to a heavy bottomed pan and soften the onions and garlic

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Slice the chestnuts thinly and add to the pan

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place your dried wild mushrooms (or porcini) in a jug with 300ml of boiling water

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and chop your mushrooms something like 5mm (not too thin)

add all the fresh mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft

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Then add your reconstituted ones and save the water/juice.

splash the ale over the ingredients in the pan

Put your flour into a jug, slowly adding this juice/water from the mushrooms which will still be warm and stir quickly

Add this to the mushrooms and stir quickly to coat everything as it thickens

chop your thyme and drain the cooked rice  (if necessary) it should feel firm but cooked

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add the rice and thyme to your pan and stir well

season to taste

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prepsre your ramekins/pie dished and roll our your pastry. Use a cutter to stamp out the lids, or turn over your dish and cut out with a knife.

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ladle the filling into your ramekins/pie dish and place the pastry on top you could seal with a fork around the edges

or leave the gravy to ooze out a little as I did 🙂 it looks a much tastier pie this way to me 🙂

glaze with milk or egg, pop in the oven for 20-30 mins on 220 oc

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Free flowers

‘Seasonal hand tied posy’; pick some flowers from the garden, put them in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. Instant cheer! Infintitely more environmentally friendly and definitely cheaper than buying them. I like to forage wild flowers, beautful and always … Continue reading

Rosey Rosehips! Top 10 ways to use rosehips.

Foraging rosehips is pretty easy,  I often read it can be prickly and time consuming but no more so than blackberries in my humble opinion. Less staining. I think the point of foraging is to spend the time outdoors and … Continue reading

Bustin’ Blackberries; Cordial, tea, wine, liqueur, muffins

Its the very beginning of October and there are still large fat blackberries to find (if you cant get fresh ones you can use frozen)

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Late in September, still plenty around this year.

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We managed to pick a couplE of kilos! I used them fresh and froze some for later

1.For cordial

This is a simple recipe, you can spice it up with star anise, cinnamon, use apples/oranges etc. I just made plain simple blackberry cordial which I can add things too later for cooking with (a reduced sauce on game, or in desserts, a spicy liqeuer for cocktails etc) or just add water to for drinking. It also goes very nicely with bourbon btw!

1kg of blackberries

1.5 litres water

500g sugar

I soaked the blackberries in the sink very quickly and gave them a rinse, picking off stalks/leaves and debris.

Add them to the pan with the water and boil for around 10 mins.

strain the fruit through a (clean) piece of muslin or tea towel over a bowl or saucepan (no need to leave overnight).

Add the sugar to your juice stir ’til dissolved on a lower heat and then bring to the boil.

pour into sterilised jars or bottles. -keeps for around 3 months.

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2.For liqueur

I use a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar (acid,sugar and alcohol preserve the product)

I half filled my jars with the cleaned blackberries (see above )

weighed them and added them to a blow/pan with the same weight of sugar

I left this to settle and soak for an hour or two as I was busy with other things

I reurned to fill the sterilised jars half way with the mixture

topped up with vodka (your cheapest will do we just need the preserving quailities of the alcohol)

fastened lids tightly left for a month in a dark warm spot

after a month strain through muslin or a tea towel into clean sterilised bottles

best left a further couple of months to mature though can use after a week or two

You’re wondering why strain then leave again aren’t you? becasue you’re paying attention. Well blackberries, unlike other berries, have a little woody core in the middle (raspberries stay on the stems as you pick) and it tastes better if you take that out.

You could also try adding red wine with the sugar and gently heating, then straining the blackberries out, add a cupful of vodka and fill your bottles 😉

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3.For tea

Apparently you can dry blackberries but I imagine its a tricky process and I haven’t tried because it seems easier to freeze them

I have found a couple of fresh/frozen blackberries are delicious with fresh (or dried) mint

Just pop them into the diffuser in the centre of yor pot or use as you would leaf tea (get the strainer out)

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4. volcano muffins

55g butter

100g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

100ml full fat milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder110g fresh blackberries

Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas 4. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin and line with muffin cases.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until well blended then beat in the milk and vanilla extract.

In a bowl sift together the flour and baking powder then mix and add to the muffin mixture. Add the blackberries and stir through, ensuring that they are evenly distributed. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and fill to 2/3 full.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.

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I softened up the berries and swirled them in.

5. Wine (makes 6 bottles) Courtesy of River Cottage.

You can make blackberry wine! I have around  7lb left in the freezer to do this. At the moment my fermenter is full of rosehips but when these are strained into demi johns in a few days I will be making blackberry wine. (I shall endeavour to remember to add the photos!) *updated, straining in 3 day, so will add more, I added some pear as didnt have quite enough blackberries I also had to use ordinary wine yeast but read this is fine*

3lbs blackberries

2 lbs caster sugar

sachet wine yeast

1 tsp yeast nutrient

1 tspn pectic enzyme/pectolase

1 gallon boiling water

1. Pick 3lb blackberries when ripe and dry (I was a little short and topped up with pears)

2. Wash well, being careful to remove any small maggots that can be found in blackberries.

3. Place the fruit in a polythene bucket and crush it with a potato masher.

4. Pour over a gallon of boiling water. Stir well, allow to become lukewarm (about 21 c) then add the pectic enzyme according to instructions on the pack.

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5. Leave for 24 hours, then add the port wine yeast and yeast nutrient (1 teaspoon of each) Cover closely and leave for four days, stirring daily.

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6. Strain the blackberry liquor through muslin or a nylon sieve, onto 2 lbs of caster sugar.

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It fizzes away quite nicely, you can rest it on a teatowel incsae it spills over

7. Pour into a demijohn, filling it to the shoulder and fit an airlock.

8. Keep the spare liquor in a bottle, fitted with a trap of moist cotton wool.

9. When the wine in the demijohn has stopped fermenting vigorously, (after about a week) top it up to the base of the neck with the spare liquor and refit the airlock.

10. Wait until the wine has stopped fermenting (no bubbles passing through the airlock) then siphon it off into another sterilised demijohn

11. This wine should clear naturally.

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12. Bottle in dark green wine bottles, and cork.

13. This wine will improve if left for 6 months, but can be drunk after a week in the bottle if you can’t wait!

14. Enjoy!

Head in the clouds

“She’s always got her head in the clouds!”

Whilst foraging in local woodland today I picked some wildflowers, all of them were favourites from my childhood.

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Tied with an old shoelace

I have a few spots I am lucky enough to get to within walking distance. We are in suburbia, living on a bus route, but luckily a stone throw from fields and more natural spaces, as a lot of the villages are in the small northern town of Doncaster. Traditionally  Doncaster is a very safe labour seat, though UKIP recently held their conference here, hoping to capitalise on the disquiet and dicontent. What you may not know is that Green party membership has increased by 170% here in the last year. It seems people do care about social policy afterall. I joined them after years of seemingly unconsciously voting Labour and then a few more of just not being able to anymore. People here are disturbed by Labour’s seeming unwillingness to tackle causes and issues that are traditionally theirs. The town is Ed Millibands constituency but we never see him “why wud e want t cum ere?”. I digress, although not too much, its kind of the point, sometimes we can be distracted by an irritatation, or a disappointment and it becomes the focus of a disproportionate amount of our energy or a drain of our energy, it gets us down.

Often it seems people who’ve spent decades in this town dont have many great things to say about the people who live here. We really suffer from a self esteem problem as a town. Having taught in many of the boroughs schools over the last 13 years, Ive met my fair share of adults who have been quicker than in other geographic localities, to expect a lot less than they should. Ive also, happily, met my fair share of kids of who’ve proved them wrong. I might have been one of those kids when I was younger.

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Sometimes children see things we don’t and understand more than we think. This is from fb I teach older kids. Sometimes they teach me.

I grew up in a single parent family under Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, in social housing which had no central heating and there would be frost on the inside of my bedroom window. I often heard on the tv (when we still had one and mum could afford the license) that single parents were the scourge of society and responsible for most of what was wrong in the world. It seemed to me things had not changed since my grandmother was locked away in Ireland for falling pregnant before being married and her baby was sold never to be seen by her again. It seems to me when I heard today that our current Tories want to do away with human rights whilst vilifying the poor and vulnerable that we could quickly go back there. Before we moved to that small village we were homeless and moved into a shelter provided for those suffering from domestic violence this is why we had become a single parent family. The current Tories are closing all of these shelters. Why are we doing worse than we could in ’81? I wonder to myself. Maybe for some this kind of ‘social cleansing’ is progress. To anyone with common sense it is blatantly immoral. I am with the focus E15 mothers  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343?sk=info

It’s time to fight back against this elite extremism, with grass roots action.

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Im not sure of the specific origin of this photo but I do know that in Guatemala indigenous women are defending their homes against mining and palm oil corporations building roads and infrastructure on them, similar is likely to happen in Alberta Canada. Where next? Is she an ‘extremist’? Is anyone who would help her? or are they?

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How do we trust governments who label environmental activism as ‘extreme’ and use the label ‘extremist’ in response to a criticism or a fight back? or to justify their own extremism? Who decides what is ‘extreme’ and where will that end?

radicalfood

In this town allotments and growing your own, are skills and traditions held dear and respected. How else do you survive wartimes and harsh economic conditions (miners strikes and the current austerity blows) without resilience and self-reliance? How can we trust governments which dont appreciate or encourage any self reliance? There are small everyday things I can do to be resilient and more self-reliant, I blog about them on here regularly. This is why I am here and why I am blogging to encourage others,  so we can share and communicate as sentient human beings with a moral conscience and a purpose.

Small grass roots everyday activities.

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Wood sorrel growing in a crack in the pavement. Nature is resilient. Life finds a way. Mother nature fights back.

I have become politically active where there is injustice in my life. I am lobbying the Irish government and have formed an advocacy group with others the ‘Justice for Irish mother and baby homes’ campaign we are seeking justice along with organisations such as the wonderful Adoption rights alliance, for our families who are still being denied it. I have also used media interest and social media to gain support and keep up the pressure. It can be a useful tool not just a way to waste the time.

I need a two edged approach I need to use politics as a tool wherever and if ever I can. I also need to take action in my daily life, the little things add up. It makes a difference to my life and to many, many others, as a result of my choices as a consumer, or of chosing not to buy at all if possible.

As a part of the latter I find I spend more and more time connecting with the earth and a natural way of life, which is changing everything in a great way.

Back to the beginning.

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Ladies bedstraw red clover honeysuckle and greater plantain. Some of my favourite childhood flowers I foraged whilst picking the last of the berries today

As a child it was often difficult, I didn’t know much different but I know I felt different and often felt a disconnect.

I heard people say “she always has her head in the clouds!” “she always has her nose in a book” I think they felt I didn’t like them.

Sometimes I didn’t.

I preferred to be out in the local woodland, up the cherry and apple trees in anyone’s garden that had them. I loved to climb away from it all.

I know people felt I didn’t notice, was naive, or even immune to the dirt, the glue bags in the bushes, the bin bag of discarded rubbish, or the dodgy deals behind the bus shelter because they always felt the need to point them out to me. Still do.

” you know you’re more likely to find a wild dog than a wild mushroom” ” Is tha lukin fo magic uns?”

From my forage today I can tell you I still see it all. Its just by a young age I had learned not to be too distracted by it.

I had my head in the clouds and my feet in the wildflowers and my pockets full of fruit or nuts and was where I wanted to be.

I am where I want to be.

 I can spot a dodgy deal going down before you will and I can name cloud formations.

Learning to forage mushrooms. Stump puffball recipe.

I invested in Roger Phillips brilliant ‘Mushrooms’ book and John Wright’s River cottage Mushrooms handbook. I have consulted them heavily and read the latter cover-to-cover as a book one evening. Its very handy to carry out with you. I also booked myself on my first fungi talk and foray. Mushroom foraging is a skill  based on a lot of knowledge, and experience.

*Which I dont have*

I am aiming to document my experiences, progress and share recipes as I learn. It will be some time before I will describe myself as a mushroom forager.

***do not use these posts as a means for identification***

(Or any other online source. If you want to be safe, research and learn for yourself, never just ask online.)

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I need to be both ‘in the field’ studying habitats and fungi in their environments and in a book reading and learning and checking, and checking again in more books, observing more and checking again.  It’s not worth picking anything until I have a fairly good idea what it is and I know that it is not poisonous. Consider also, what is to be gained from picking it if you know you aren’t going to use it? It is useful to insects and acting as a host to micro organisms where it is.

That said, it’s not destructive to pick mushrooms, it wont damage the mycelium which is the main part of the organism, that is living in the earth. I will often need to pick a specimen in order to examine closely at home. I learned the hard way for myself how just complicated it can be after picking specimens to examine which I will share with you in a bit before we get to puffballs and recipes.

A good starting point is the edibles that are more difficult to get wrong or get confused with anything very poisonous.  I have found John Wrights book useful in getting familar with some of these. He imparts a great deal of knowledge and wisdom with a healthy dose of humour and a few clever mental images that leave you more clearer on the bigger picture. Roger Phillips wonderful book has an invaluable photo of sets of mushrooms in various stages for each species and a very broad selection. Phillips will inform ‘edible’ under an inkcap (in my edition he tends to favour ‘edible’ inedible’ ‘unknown/suspect’ and ‘poisonous’). Wright tells you that if you have consumed any alcohol then ink caps become very poisonous (technically alcohol poisoning as a chemical present in the ink cap which is not a toxin, prevents your body from breaking alcohol down in the usual way) it has been documented that even alcohol in perfumes and deodorants causes reactions in some people. It is a tricky business. You need more than one or two books and you need to pay careful attention to more than the pictures.

Edges of woodland and grass should throw up something

Knowing where to look/where mushrooms are likely to be growing, and finding your own places to forage is essential. Mycelium is the main part of your fungi and it grows under the ground you can sometimes tell where it is by the grass. The grass may vary in colour from where the mycelium has enrinched it, or drawn from it. If the mycelium is happy we dont get a mushroom, we get a mushroom where the mycelium cannot continue to spread and grow -the edges of likely environments, grassy parts of woodlands, near the carparks and road verges. Though we dont have led based petrols anymore it is wise to consider pollutants, especially as some mushrooms concentrate them, if you wouldn’t eat blackberries next to a busy road then mushrooms aren’t a good idea. Parks may be good spots to forage but consider that some very well managed ones will not leave fallen trees or cut logs, and debris that the fungi need to grow. John Wright also points out in his book that although he has foraged in parks and they may be the only possibility sometimes, it is wise to check carefully as on one occasion he picked some mushrooms which had been dusted in a a fungicide that was barely noticeable.  You will also need to know what your fungi is growing on, for example Yew contains toxins so you might not want to eat anything growing on that. Most mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees. Sometimes when they appear to be in the soil they are connected to a part of a tree that is/has become buried.

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My ‘Tool kit’ so far. A basket is now a high priority in order to ensure I dont damage delicate mushrooms. I used an open weave fabric bag to carry my first forage as I wasnt really expecting to find anything and you cant use a carrier!

Learning how to identify, learning about what you’re looking at, and what those little differences mean is crucial, many times a single subtle difference that goes unnoticed by the untrained eye is the key to a succesful ID. There is little point in me looking unless I know or am learning what these are. This is where your field guides come in handy. You will then need a few tools to examine a likely looking specimen; a knife, a magnifying glass, a notebook and a camera to photograph the identifying parts. Such as the cap size, shape colour and texture, and the same for the stem, and does it have a ring? gills or tubes? where do they join to the stem? The colour of the gills? and how they are attached to the stem? how thick and how dense are they? the texture of them and if they fork or not. The smell colour and texture of the flesh. The colour of the spores and the habitat, the trees nearby.  Much of this I can note ‘in situ’ a camera and notebook help me remember and record these details -and of course, where the mushrooms were.

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A parasol? Amanita?

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Spores colour helps you ID but you might need more

You might need to collect a specimen to test and examine further and check with your books when you get home. You may also need to do a spore print.

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Sometimes flesh stains upon cutting which is both good and bad, dependant on your species. Good for a parasol. (If it is one.) Smaller parasols may be confused with poisonous dapperlings.

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Bad for a field mushroom.

You do not want yellow on the base of your field mushrooms as then they become ‘yellow stainers’ which are likely to cause stomach upset and are the most common cause of poisning from mushroom foraging in our country.

The clincher with both of these (after the size of a large parasol) is the smell, if the field mushroom smells at all ‘chemical’ like ink or detergent then it is a ‘yellow stainer’ and your parasol will smell distictively of warm milk. Not species generally recommended for a novice. Mine smelled bad. I also learned that a shaggy parasol is an amanita and contains toxins -though considered ‘good’ and edible. It must be carefully and fully cooked to break down the toxins and to avoid stomach upset, a smaller piece first is always advisable to check how you personally react (it can vary person to person). I felt out of my depth with these species.

I would not assume every mushroom I pick in the same area which looks the same is the same species -and the diferences can be quite subtle.

Not all cases of poisoning are caused by mistaken IDs, sometimes an individual can have a reaction where another doesn’t (chicken of the woods is one example). Some toxins in mushrooms react differently depending on the individual,  and you may eat something a few times and be fine, and then not. On occasion the knowledge about particular mushrooms and their complicated toxicity becomes more evidenced and something widely considered ‘good’ becomes known to cause reactions in certain situations. Sometimes it may be due to incorrect preparation and cooking.

So I learned that all wild mushrooms should be thoroughly cooked and you should always try a small portion first to see how you react.

Never consider eating anything unless you are 100% confident that it is safe.

My first forage were some stump puffballs. Most puffballs are edible. You would eat a spiny one because -it is spiny. The only thing you could confuse puffballs with is an earthball, which is unpleasant but not poisonous (or not seriously so). A young (still veiled) amanita mushroom (seriously poisonous) may bear a resemblance to a common white puffball. Be sure and cut them in half lengthways, if the texture is pure white and firm with no trace of forming gills or colour then they are good to go. As they get older they develop their spores inside and you will see signs of age outside, and this change in the centre, they are very unpleasant by then. Stump puffballs are the only puffballs to grow on wood, beech (which may be buried, as in this case).

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Edges! The mycellium has nowhere to go so it is producing fungi to carry spores

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Stump puffballs.

I decided to go back a few days later and took some pictures so you can see what they look like when they start sporing. Puffball spores are produced internally, in a spheroidal fruiting body called a gasteroid (‘stomach-like’). As the spores mature, they form a mass called a gleba in the centre that is usually of a distinctive color and texture. Eventually it dries, becomes brittle, splits, and the spores escape.

There are some beautiful photos of spores shooting from puffballs if you google 🙂

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The same one a few days later

So I learn that it is often in the timing and with luck, after searching likely environments. I hope to discover a few patches to search around the same time each year. This will mean checking regularly, and keeping an eye on them. Sometimes they dont return and sometimes they appear where they weren’t before.

Very young mushrooms dont have much flavour so its best to wait ’til they are bigger but not getting past their best, or containing maggots as may happen to larger but outwardly healthy looking mushrooms. It’s generally advised that picking sustainably means leaving the older/elderly looking ones to spore, with the younger less tasty ones, and taking around two thirds of the rest.

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A decent collection of good sized stump puffballs

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The stump puffballs ‘pear’ shape and beige colour

The stump puffball is a beige colour, rather than the white of a common puffball, which often gets it confused with the inedible earthball. Earthballs have a slightly different shape and are hard. This puffball has a marshmallow texture, the flesh is firm spongy and completely white. The skin which is left on (but often peeled on the larger puffball variety) has a powdery feel. A more experienced friend also confirmed my thought that they were edible so after examining my specimen and researching, I went back for more.

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No signs of change in texture or discoloration in the centre

 I examined every single one closely before I prepared them for cooking, and cut each one in half lengthways as part of this process. I intend to develop good habits and stay safe.

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My first foraged mushrooms!

I poured a bit of rosemary oil into the pan (infusing oils is on this blog if you want to have a go) and fried my bread.

Then added the mushrooms, keeping the heat low to sautee them, gently softening, they need about 10 mins to be cooked right through.

Dont let them get fried hard (weird texture)

Scramble the eggs in, add salt and pepper to season. I added a little cube of my homemade frozen elderberry and blackberry jus -for a treat since it was my first meal of foraged mushrooms for supper.

Very enjoyable with home made blackberry cordial and brandy 🙂

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