Foraging Friday: The Field Blewit

I have been delighted to find some of these in the field edges and verges this season as I have not seen them for several years. However, a word of caution: these mushrooms must always be cooked, never eaten raw, and some people do have an allergic reaction to it so try a small quantity if it is your first time. Nevertheless it is a popular mushroom and relatively easy to find and identify.

Field Blewit
Field Blewit by Girl Interrupted Eating on Flickr

You need to get out early to pick the Blue Leg or Field Blewit (Lepista saeva) because it is equally popular with grubs of various kinds. You are likely to encounter it growing alongside footpaths, on the edge of woodland, fields or roadsides as well as on waste ground – basically anywhere a bit “marginal” and a bit grassy. They will tend to appear repeatedly in the same place so you can go back for more if they suit you.

They are distinctive, large mushrooms, with a lilac, streaked tinge to the stem, which itself can be fairly bulbous, and a grey to brown pale cap. The gills are fairly dense and white. I need to stress again that these details alone are not enough to get a positive identification and it is imperative that a good field guide and preferably two guides are consulted if you have not picked these before. See my article on Picking and Identifying Edible Fungi for some more general guidance of staying safe. Blue Leg can be muddled with the poisonous Livid Agaric (Entoloma sinuatum) which has a much paler cap and a reddish/brown spore print and which will cause sickness.

Don’t be put off trying for this mushroom if you are prepared to take the right precautions, though, as the taste is exceptionally good and well loved by foragers. There is a good chance you will be able to find a local person who can show you these as they are so popular. You will notice a slightly perfumed and somewhat un-mushroomy aroma when you cut the fruit bodies and a nice nutty taste when cooked. Cleaning well, chopping and frying in butter with some onions is a good way to bring out the best of the flavour.

I’m indebted to Girl Interrupted Eating for the photograph, check out her Girl Interrupted Eating blog for some great Blewit recipes and other fabulous wild food resources.

You could also try cooking them The Traditional Nottinghamshire Way.

Foraging Friday: Dandelion Roots

Dandelion roots
Dandelion Roots (via Wikipedia)

As the Autumn wears on and the berries are over, some of the most exciting foraging is to be accessed with a trowel, notably horseradish, wild parsnip and dandelion. Dandelions are easy to find, you may not even have to go further than your garden, and at this time of year, the roots are at their fattest. You will need to dig them up as they can plunge downwards some 30cm below the surface.

Dandelion Coffee

The most popular use for dandelion roots is to make dandelion coffee. It has a good, nutty taste, very much like coffee but without the caffeine, so makes a good coffee substitute. To make dandelion coffee, clean the roots thoroughly and chop them into short lengths of about a centimetre. Place them on a baking tray and dry in the oven for about 30 minutes on a low heat of about 50 centigrade; then roast them for a further 20-30 minutes or so at about 150 centigrade. Keep checking during the roasting process and take them out when they are crisp and browned through without burning. The roasted root pieces can then be ground in a coffee grinder and used as normal coffee grounds.

Dandelion Roots
A bad picture of a delicate side dish of dandelion roots

Dandelion as a Root Vegetable

Dandelion roots can also be treated like a root vegetable, something like a “very poor man’s parsnip”. The flavour is quite bitter but also has something of the artichoke about it. Dandelion roots are not to everyone’s taste, due to the bitterness but the best of them can be brought out by careful preparation.

Clean and scrub the roots but do not peel them. They will cook quite quickly if roasted under the grill for about 5 minutes with a little olive oil. They can also be gently boiled for about 5 minutes until tender. Serve with melted butter and pepper as a delicate side dish. After they have been coocked the roots are very easy to peel and would make a good addition to a root vegetable mash with sweet potatoes or  turnip.

Foraging Friday: The Hedgehog Fungus

Spiky underside of Hydnum Repandum
Hedgehog Fungus - Hydnum repandum

The texture of the hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum) is a lot like chicken and it keeps its “meatiness” very well when cooked. It is a wonderful mushroom and it is one of the highlights of the Autumn for me to go and pick these from my secret location.

The fruit bodies grow as big as your hand and could just about pass for a chicken breast in your cooking pot.

The hedgehog fungus is very distinctive because the spores are secreted by “spikes” rather than gills – hence the name. It belongs to an odd squad of toothed fungi called Hydnaceae that also includes a few other edible species. The caps can be pure white to slightly pink or gently orange, depending on where it is growing. They tend to take on the flavour of the leaf litter in which they grow, too, so I am accustomed to finding them slightly bitter and piney – but delicious.

As big as your hand

As far as guidance on where to find them goes, I can’t offer a secret formula. I have tended to find them in established pine forest and in damper conditions. Try to see where water is seeping down a slope. If you find them in one place, look directly up and down hill for more because the spores will be water borne. Where they do grow they should be quite prolific and will reliably return year after year, the caps getting anually bigger as the fungus gets established. I have picked them in the same place for ten years now.

A bit like chicken, really.

Be sure not to uproot the fungus when picking it, but cut away the the caps leaving the stems in the ground to improve the chances of the mushroom continuing to flourish. Please also read my general advice about Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms and remember to be 100% certain of your identification with all mushrooms – use a good photographic field guide.

These mushrooms dry very well and are reputed to store well; but they always get eaten pretty quickly in my house.

Foraging Friday: Shaggy Ink Caps

Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus) are a wonderfully “mushroomy” mushroom in both taste and appearance but you need to pick and cook them quickly before they collapse into an inky mush of spores.

Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer's Wig
Coprinus comatus - Yummus yummious

The distinctive appearance of this mushroom has earned it the common names “Lawyer’s Wig” and “Shaggy Mane”, both of which are apt descriptions. What can be offputting about them is that as they mature, the margins begin to break down and dissolve into a black liquid that contains the spores – that’s where the “ink” bit comes from. In fact, the whole mushroom disappears into a self digesting black mush within a few hours – nice.

Thankfully, shaggy ink caps are quite common and  have turned many a futile foraging expedition into rich pickings for me. Keep an eye open for these beauties, particularly on roadsides and on waste ground as well as under pines. They have been around for several weeks already and will continue to appear late into autumn.

When picking them go for the younger specimens as always although if you intend to cook and eat them within a couple of hours, a little bit of raggedness around the edges won’t hurt; i.e. if the caps have started “inking”, you will still be able to eat them.

frying mushrooms
In the pan, where they belong!

These mushrooms have a lovely flavour and I enjoy them enormously, fried with onions or liquidised in a soup.

Be aware that although they are a pretty distinctive species there are a number of “inking” mushrooms some of whom it is not advisable to eat at all.  In particular, the much darker Coprinus picaceus can resemble young ink caps. Use a couple of field guides to confirm your identification, preferably consult a friend who nows what to look for, don’t eat anything you are not 100% sure of, cut the mushrooms at the stem rather than pulling them up … blah, blah … please read my more detailed article on Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms for some general advice on foraging.

Foraging Friday: Saffron Milk Caps

Wet and horrible today but I am hoping this weather will bring out the mushrooms and I’ll be able to visit a favourite spot for collecting saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus).

Saffron Milk Cap
Perfect Specimen

I love showing people these mushrooms and then declaring that they are not only edible but delicious. The way that they bleed bright orange is quite offputting for some and most people would instinctively think that this indicates that they are poisonous.

When foraging for mushrooms I would insist on this general advice:

  1. Preferably go out with someone who knows what they are looking for who can show you the mushrooms in the field and talk you through or show you the inedible or poisonous look-alikes.
  2. Invest in at least two books. Get one photographic field guide to carry with you and keep at home a large and thorough mycology book that will go into much greater detail. It is not likely that a field guide will show you everything you can find and you will need another book to double check identification. A photographic guide is very useful but you cannot depend only on outward appearances.
  3. If in doubt about a specimen, take a few home and analyse them. Get a spore print at least and look it over very carefully before comitting to an identification, or show it to a friend who is more experienced.

Thankfully saffron milk caps are very distinctive and you can be pretty sure of them. The features to check for are the carroty orange colour and the concentric ring-like effect on the top of the cap. The cap margins are slightly rolled in. When fresh and cut they will bleed an orange milk and when bruised, the flesh and gills will turn blue. The gills are decurrent, which means they extend down the stem. Many people can also detect a slightly fruity, apricot smell to these mushrooms.

Picture of Saffron Milk Caps and Various Boletus.
Saffron Milk Caps and Various Boletus Ready for Cooking

Look for them in pine woods where they will return frequently and you will be able to find them consistently from September onwards until late November. When picking mushrooms, use a knife to pare them off at the bottom of the stem, leaving the root in the ground as pulling them up will destroy the mushroom and spoil its chances of fruiting again. Remember most of a mushroom consists of tiny threads under the ground and what you are picking to eat is just the fruiting body.

With saffron milk caps you need to be out early before the critters get to them because they are loved by grubs, too. It is worth cutting the body in half when picking so you can see if there is any infestation that will show up as dark blue speckles and tunnels in the flesh. As the fruit bodies mature they will go pale and can get quite large but older specimens are certain to be full of grubs and virtually tasteless. You need young and firm specimens.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
Wild Mushroom Risotto

Not all milk caps are edible and be sure that you are not picking brown roll rims (Paxillus involutus) which look similar and also bleed although tending to be brown, or woolly milk caps (Lactarius torminosus) that are pink or red and have a woolly margin. Use identification guides and be sure.

These mushrooms keep their texture well when cooked and I just like to fry them with a bit of garlic infused olive oil, add them to a risotto or a mushroom salad.

Disclaimer: the author will not be held liable for any ill effects resulting from misidentification of mushrooms based on this post. Please take responsibility to get a positive and accurate identification before eating any wild picked mushrooms.

How Local Communities Can Dial Down Dependence on Burning Carbon

(c) 2010, Seymour Jacklin.

Every single individual can make changes in their household, work and family life that will help to reduce their “carbon footprint.” The idea of a carbon footprint is an extension of the term “ecological footprint”, which was an indication of how much land was required to sustain a given human population.

Fossil Fuel
Reducing Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Your carbon footprint is how much Carbon Dioxide is released into the the atmosphere by you and the activities that sustain you. Carbon dioxide is one of the “greenhouse gasses” contributing to global warming. A large proportion of your carbon footprint is caused by the burning of coal and oil to generate the electricity you use or to run the vehicle you drive. As well as reducing our contribution to global warming, decreasing our dependence on carbon fuels will benefit our planet in other ways, undercutting the dependence of the world economy on oil and promoting the development of less polluting alternatives.

Although changes can be made on a household, by household basis, whole communities can band together to tackle carbon dependence to far greater effect. In the United Kingdom, concerned individuals can respond to the challenge by comitting to participate in a national network of  “Transition Towns” and developing a collective plan and vision to de-escalate carbon dependence.

Here are some of the ways that you can go about making a difference:

  • Form a group and begin networking with others with a common interest. This will enable an inventory of skills to be made and it is surprising what creativity and expertise will become available from people who grow food locally, to those with political influence, from artistic and design abilities to trades and educational experience – all of which can be harnessed as part of the collective strategy.
  • Community groups can raise awareness by setting up information points at local events and inviting people to talks by local and national activists, showing films and distributing literature through existing networks.
  • Create forums for discussion and collective problem solving, to look at the specific issues in your area. For instance, is there a dependence on importing goods by road for local consumption when many of these could be locally produced? Could commuters viably set up a car sharing scheme?
  • Run courses using expertise that you have to educate people in skills that they can apply such as growing food, building sustainably, hand-crafting, foraging, woodland management and waste management. These can be run using expertise within the group or arranging for others to come in from outside to deliver teaching and training.
  • Form relationships with local government representatives to enable your concerns to be taken to broader political platforms or influence local planning. Engage in letter writing and advocacy to people in positions of influence or perusuade them to participate in your group.

The net benefit of this collective endeavour goes far beyond merely transitoning your community to a more sustainable future, it brings people together and creates friendships and the opportunity to learn new skills. It can open your eyes to the potential in the people around you and the beauty of the place where you live and work. You may get to revive an old hobby or pass on your knowledge to other people. It may even save you money as you find ways to use less electricity and fuel. You will get to be part of a growing movement that will inhibit the destruction of the planet and the enhance the quaility of life in the society in which you live.

Checkout:

The Durham Transition Network Initative