February 15 – 17th.. tapping trees

We went to a brilliant conference in the Scottish Borders today organised by Reforesting Scotland, mostly about wild harvests from woodlands. Inspiring! especially the lady who lived for a year as they did in 18th century – makes my Lent challenge seem very easy and tame. A forester talked about some trials he’d done tapping trees for their sap – with some success, especially from Birch, Sycamore and Norway Maple. Boiling the sap down to make a syrup apparently takes time and fuel, but we could do it on the stove while it’s heating us. We have a sycamore just full of sap, and two birches, so we are going to give it a try – this could be my Lent carbohydrate source!

In the afternoon, we got to innoculate two birch logs with fungal spawn in sawdust and bring them home. We did one of Oyster Mushrooms and one of Shiitake, and are prepared to be patient – it was two years before my last oyster log fruited – and turned out to be shiitake anyway! So long as we don’t forget what the logs are and put them in the stove…

The snow has melted and temperatures have risen. It was good to see under the snow young shoots of Cleavers (or Goosegrass), which are edible and make a nice drink, no doubt I’ll be glad of that next week. I’ve had no caffeine now for 36 hours and the headaches are gone….. would still love a cuppa tea though…

Roadkill potatoes fallingoff the back of an overloaded trailer today…..

February 2009 – been a long winter

Snow on the ground and what seems to be a very long winter. We have scraped a few winter fungi on occasion from the woods – the Winter Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes) stood us in good stead on several occasions in December and January, but there weren’t as many as last year, and mushrooms have had to be bought. Right now, we are rounding up some Jews Ear Fungi (Auricula auricularia-judae) from elder trees (which are already breaking bud despite the extreme cold). They are jelly-like, capable of freezing and thawing which is handy, and taste excellent cooked slowly in butter or milk and butter for 20 minutes or so. Make sure you put a well-fitting lid on the pan because the Ears tend to blow up else! But what’s left now are getting a bit dry and shrivelled, and most of our foraging now is about bringing home rucksacks of firewood and kindling from the forest floor.

A CHALLENGE FOR LENT

I’m not very religious at all, but it’s a sort of tradition in my family to give something up for Lent. It’s never made that much difference till last time, when I gave up supermarkets. That really made me think! This year I’ve decided to go one further and give up buying food at all……

Given the snow, the protracted winter and no sign of green shoots whatever, I shall be reliant on stored and saved wild food and frozen home grown stuff to begin with. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (25th Feb) and finishes on Easter Sunday, 40 days later. Nearer Easter I hope for fresh greens – nettles, salads, shoots and stems. Protein won’t be a problem as I have stored hazelnuts, my chickens and ducks lay eggs, and there are bits of ex-cockerel in the freezer too. No fish – I ate them all, but maybe some rocky shores will yield some shellfish. The real challenge will be carbohydrate. We’ve eaten all last years tatties; nothing made with flour is permitted, nor rice etc, which I’ve never managed to grow in Scotland, strangely! There are Jerusalem artichokes and Sweet Cicely roots for the digging, though. No tea or coffee! I’ve already gone “cold turkey” on caffeine (nasty it was too), but will miss my cuppa anyway. No milk……

What I think will happen is I’ll become more aware of the areas where we could become more self-sufficient, and just how reliant we are on imported goods. I think I shall be even more adventurous in trying wild foods, too, maybe out of boredom with my diet! I am looking for sponsors too, and the money raised will be given to the new community church in Bankfoot who (as well as being hooked to renewable energy and full of environment – friendly features – see www.bankfootchurch.org.uk  ) are establishing gardens and a community orchard on the site – so hopefully everyone in the village will get the chance to scrump and enjoy home-grown and local produce by next year.

I’ll keep a log on my progress and what I’m eating through the course of Lent; meanwhile looking for  some warmer weather now to get those spring greens up through the permafrost!

September and October Catch-up

September passed in a bit of a blur, to begin with – as always the start of this month dominated by the Dundee Flower Show and its pre-math and aftermath, coupled with the start of a new term at the college, which was more complicated than usual!

So what follows is by way of a summary for a month that is actually a good one for foragers usually – just needed a bit more time in our case.

On 10th, I foraged along Crieff Road in Perth for fruits and nuts for purely educational reasons, but noted some excellent elderberries on campus, and some tedious municipal planting yielded a nice bag of Japonica quinces (Chaenomeles japonica). These fragrant fruits (they are pomes to be exact) make a lovely addition to fruit pies and puddings. Blackberries ripe trailing over our back wall from the neighbours – started to harvest and freeze them.

angels20wings20web

 

On 14th, we went fungi-foraging and netted some Slippery Jacks, one Cep, Bay Boletes and several Angel’s Wings. Angel’s Wings are Pleurotellus porrigens, related to Oyster Mushroom but subject to some doubt in internet circles as a couple of folk in Japan once were ill on them. We’ve eaten them regularly for quite a while, and so have many others, so I am suspicious about the identification in the case in question. Worth bearing in mind, though that people can react differently to individual species, hence the confusion when one book says “edible” and another says “best avoided” or similar ambiguous verbage. The other find on the 14th comes into this category – Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans). It’s easy to identify because Plums and Custard perfectly describes the colouring, so is good to eat on that score. Can be slightly bitter, but we eat it anyway. Braised it with shoulder of lamb and cranberries from our garden.

 

On 19th, it was rowan berries day. Collected a big heap of them and made rowan jelly – delicious. That week, the boletus and chanterelles I dried in July and August were put into jars for winter use, and noted the rose hips were looking good. Shaggy Ink Caps were spotted at the college, but turned to ink before I could pick them. On 26th, we raided one of our usual haunts and found, apart from the usual fungal suspects which we rounded up, a new one – Hydnum (or Sarcodon) imbricatum – a type of Hedgehog Fungus. They were tea-plate sized, scaley fruiting bodies by the edge of the path, quite spectacular. As we had never seen it before we only took one for identification, and I’m glad because they are apparently quite rare, pinewoods in Scotland being the preferred habitat. Edible though – and delicious!

Puffballs were taken with roast beef on 28th, and a dessert of blaeberries, brambles and cranberries completed Sunday Dinner.

October

Now I look at it, October is also at an end!

On 4th, we harvested a large crop of wild hazelnuts from the plantation, and so did our friends. There were plenty left for the two wild food workshops we held this month, but I seriously think it is time to coppice the hazels – the nuts are getting too high to reach! We gathered rosehips too and made syrup, and brambles continued to provide sustenance and desserts.

Removed a large Sweet Cicely that had seeded itself in the wrong place in the garden, and turned the large fat roots into soup, along with other vegetables. The aniseedy flavour when cooked is mild and enticing, blending well with other tastes.

The two workshops found plenty overall to forage, but fungi were not so thick on the ground as we might have hoped – a cold dry snap had temporarily put a halt to fruiting. Nevertheless, one high point was a massive fruiting body of Grifola frondosa which our neighbour Geoff served as a starter on the evening of the first workshop. Andrew and I squabbled over identification, I thought it was Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis crispa) to start with, but we all realised it was just too “chunky”. Next week we found Cauliflower Fungus as well and were able to compare them side by side. Geoff found a very young Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) – this is significant because it didn’t have any maggots in and we all got a small mouthful. Yum. A range of other edible fungi have been eaten – some good – no excellent – crops of Honey Fungus in the Forest Enterprise wood, plenty of Lycoperdon perlatum puffballs and when all else fails, Common Yellow Russula. (All else did fail, for a brief spell last week and I bought some chestnut mushrooms, reduced. Then honey fungus appeared on the lawn). We normally get a reliable crop of Shaggy Ink Caps in the hen run, but not this year, I suspect the ducks of eating them.

 

Nut front – Bankfoot chestnuts produced niggardly little nuts, no use to man nor beast, but James next door brought back some fat Surrey ones from Bisley, which we are roasting on the stove merrily, with the hazelnuts. Andrew went on a cider making course and has been scrumping furiously the apple crop of our other neighbours (with permission!), along with any others he can find. I went to Northumberland and found a great apple tree right in the middle of the sand-dunes at Bamburgh. We have got out our old cheese press and are also producing fresh apple juice, which is astonishingly good. Pete, who came on the second workshop sent us a tiny, but perfectly formed, pear to identify that he had found while scrumping. We were stumped, but Andy my colleague at college identified it as the Plymouth Pear, Pyrus cordata.plums20and20custard20web

On 19th, I gathered elderberries and made a gallon of wine, and froze two boxes of them. Fished some out last week and made Elderberry Muffins. More Plums and Custard found on 26th.

Wild weather has seen off the rest of October – firstly howling gales and cascades of rain, then snow, followed by a big freeze. Time to stay by the stove and roast chestnuts!

August 2008

August – Weeks 1, 2 and 3.

More chanterelles, more wild cherries. We think it’s odd that the several fairly old cherries in a hedge line from which we gather the fruits all seem to produce fruits of varying sweetness and colour when ripe. One is almost black, another, barely red. All delicious, though. Any theories, anyone?

One long walk on 10th produced in addition to a sack of chanterelles, Plums -and-Custard mushrooms (Tricholomopsis), Birch Boletes and larch Boletes, and tawny grisettes. The chanterelles from this trip we dried, by threading them onto cotton and hanging them as garlands in our warm shed. When they are nearly dry I will de-thread them and spread them on trays over the boiler to finish before putting them in tightly sealed jars for the winter.

On the 11th, I macro-foraged! In that I went sea angling from Arbroath with friends, and caught 7 big mackerel. I hadn’t been before and must admit the sea was choppy and a tad nauseous, but I got over it and would definately like to go again. As my friends were going on holiday the day after, I managed to “forage” (borrow? steal?) 5 of their fishies too to make a round dozen which I have cleaned, filleted and frozen, or eaten. The same day, Andrew brought home a bag of field mushrooms he’d found at work, which I turned into a delicious soup.

Then we went on a week’s holiday to Norfolk, and got to try out some wild foods on Andrew’s unsuspecting (or suspecting?) family. At Holkham Beach we gathered samphire, oh how I love samphire and it especially nice after being exiled from this East Anglian delicacy for a couple of decades. Steamed for 15 minutes and tossed in butter, this unprepossessing-looking product of mudflats with its fleshy, salty stems is incomparable. We didn’t gather any more, no-one seemed that enthused except us, but perhaps we shouldn’t have inflicted the seaweed Sea Lettuce on them in the same meal. Filamentous pale green sheets you’d think wouldn’t take much to cook, but in fact it was a bit chewy. Next time I would make more of a meal of it, with some flavouring, longer cooking, combined with mushrooms perhaps…. not really a side vegetable with roast pork. The apple sauce, though, was made with a combination of wilding apples from the hedgerow, “scrumped” eaters from an abandoned garden, and wild water mint, and it went very nicely. Likewise, we all enjoyed (I think that’s the word) the mind-banditing sharpness of Sea Buckthorn berries growing on the dunes near Old Hunstanton, and Andrew brought the pips home in a hankie…..

We kept a supply of fungi going through the week – puffballs, horse mushrooms, grisettes etc. – some of which were appreciated, the rest we just ate ourselves.

Horse Mushroom

Horse Mushroom

I was specially excited by the Roman mushrooms – found while exploring the site of a Roman fort at Brancaster. Resisted some big Parasol Mushrooms (Lepiota procera) at Wretham Heath – after all it was a nature reserve – look forward to finding some more before the summer’s out.

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushroom

Back home, we realised the fridge was empty so went out after more chanterelles and found, in addition, an absolute HORDE of Boletus edulis, the Cep or King Bolete. However, most of them were coated in white and contorted or deformed in a most sinister looking way. We think – but please educate us if you know better – these specimens had been affected by the torrential rain which had obviously been plaguing Perthshire in our absence and fallen foul of some predatory fungus themselves. Luckily there were some good specimens, as well as a variety of other boletes and the first Slippery Jacks. We have cleaned, sliced and set these to dry for winter, but the Ceps are for tea tonight. While out we snacked on some lovely little wild gooseberries, and checked the progress of rowan berries in general.

July 2008 – Week 1

Discovered the first Tawny Grisettes (Amanita fulva) in a local wood – rather dry and battered but fingers crossed for rain and more. It dropped spores on the kitchen counter overnight but didn’t get et. Andrew reports Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) now a bit tough, but still lemony-sharp. Elderflowers have been picked and processed into wine, cordial and fritters so far. Gooseberry and elderflower jam in process of being made. Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) growing high up on the Birnam Oak – the last of the trees of Birnam Wood that DIDN’T make it to Dunsinane. Jack-by-the-Hedge leaves still good in salads (Alliara petiolaris). Wild strawberries mixed with garden raspberries and blended with home-made blackcurrant cordial make the most astounding smoothies. Tried some Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in salad – alright I suppose if you like a bitter taste. Gathered firewood from fallen branches.
Tawny Grisette

Tawny Grisette