Autumn Foraging Update… or ‘What’s up?’

Early autumn update: Time for ceps!

Cep

Depending on where you are from, some of you may know this mushroom as the penny bun (England), cep (France), porcini (little pig – Italy), steinpilze (stone mushroom – Germany), or even Karl-Johans-svamp (Sweden)… in fact there are dozens and dozens of recognised names for this species around Europe, which attests to its universal popularity throughout history. Between 20,000 and 100,000 tonnes are harvested globally for the commercial market per year, commanding high prices, yet this is not an uncommon mushroom.

In England, the cep or penny-bun can fruit in two or more waves if weather conditions are correct. This year in our local south-west woods we have already seen a light fruiting of ceps, many in the vicinity of oak trees, during early August.  Now, as we head into the first week of September, there is plenty of rain and things are looking good for the next wave. We may well see a third wave as we head into October, by which time they will most likely be more prolific in association with beech woods. This is the typical pattern it seems with the cooler conditions triggering this later ‘wave of ceps’ a week or so earlier than elsewhere, further to the north. A combination of acid soils, underneath oak or beech with birch and holly both present, seems to produce the best results, although forestry spruce plantations and underneath pines can also be very very productive places to look and should not be overlooked.

Each year we pray for that vital autumn rain that will produce this magnificent second harvest across the region!

CepCAP: Yellowish brown to reddish brown… but predominantly brown, looking just like a bread bun on a short, swollen fat stick – hence the name ‘penny bun’.  Often there is a paler margin around the edge. 

SIZE: typically 10 to 30 cm across – that’s over a foot! Underneath there are no gills but instead (like all of the mushrooms in the bolete group) a sponge like layer, comprised of the tubes, which are only visible when you cut the mushroom in half, and the visible surface of ‘pores’. The pores of this mushroom are very small, they are round, very pale yellow when young – almost an ‘off-white’ colour, ageing later to a dingy olive brown. 

FLESH: All parts of the cep’s flesh smell a little sweet. The flesh tastes sweet and nutty, young specimens can even be sliced and eaten raw, something that is very unusual for most wild mushrooms. Eaten in this way they are delicious with a restrained drizzle of lemon juice and a little salt. The cep’s white flesh does not change colour when cut or bruised. many other similar boletes do go through distinct colour changes, particularly to blue, but not this one!

Cep stemSTEM: The stem of the cep can be very very fat indeed, often with more usable flesh in it than the cap itself! The upper stem surface is covered in a very fine, pale/white, raised fishing-net pattern or ‘reticulum’. This white fishing reticulum is a distinctive feature.

 

If it doesn’t have it then it’s not a cep. If it isn’t at least white-ish then it’s not a cep. No reticulum, darker brown reticulum or reddish-brown reticulum all indicate other species, not all of them are edible, so beware!

FACT: The tasty cep contains lovastatin, so can help to lower cholesterol. It also contains mood stabilising compounds such as serotonin, melatonin and tryptamine that are found in the human body and could possibly help to alleviate depression. It is delicious and drys well, particularly the ‘sponge’ from underneath the cap, which makes a terrifically flavoursome and high in protein stock powder.

While we are all making the most of late summer, I wish you all a wonderful autumn filled with mushrooms and the joyful crunch of autumn leaves beneath your feet. I hope to see some of you in the forest this autumn!

best wishes,
Fred the Forager!

For the Love of Seaweed and Foraging Friends

It’s that time of year when we like to take a trip to the coast. Preferably somewhere fairly remote and clean with dramatic scenery. The British Isles can be very dramatic indeed outside of the holiday season and if you enjoy dramatic landscapes the coast in late winter will seldom disappoint. Our trip brought high winds and freezing temperatures, so thermal base layers, arctic parkas and army issue woolen snoods were the order of the day and we managed to play in full comfort despite the weather; fishing on the rocks, gathering shellfish and above all getting in a vital seaweed harvest for the coming year.

We decided to run an early Forager’s Retreat just for ourselves for once – well a group of close friends, all foragers… a sort of forager’s enclave with evenings spent preparing and eating wild food in front of the fire to get in the mindset for the coming year of harvesting and preparing. The location for our stay? Glebe House in Pembrokeshire is a wonderful choice which I would highly recommended at any time of the year.

The coastal habitat supports a diverse array of foods, so we did not limit ourselves to eating seaweed for the weekend but the young tender leaves, shoots and buds of alexanders, navelwort, scurvy grass, rock samphire and sea beet were all on the menu as were a variety of shellfish. This is a time of year to celebrate the greening of things. So many flavours and textures to incorporate into stir-frys, frittatas, smoothies, delicate soups and little side-dishes of steamed spring vegetables. At this time of year the increase in abundance, now fully evident, brings hope to the heart for the year ahead and inspires us to get out and do more of what we love best – gathering our food.

Seaweeds are a very nutritious source of food. Many people in Western Europe have not tried them and do not realise just how diverse a source of food they can be. Every species found growing near to the shore around the British Isles is non-toxic*, so they are generally pretty safe to experiment with, but although some types taste GREAT when prepared in the right ways, there are also some tastebud shocks to be had. Some are truly sensational, but no, not all of them are nice! It has to be said that gutweed Ulva intestinalis, purple laver Porphyra umbilicalis, the wracks Fucus/Ascophylum species, sugar kelp Saccharina latissima and pepper dulse Osmundea pinnatifida** are among our firm favourite foods as foragers, well worth going out for!

* There is one toxic species in deeper water.
**Much squealing and happy dancing from Tasch… finding pepper dulse was a first for her on this trip!

Young pepper dulse growing from a rock

One of the missions for our trip was to gather, process, dry and powder enough wrack to cover our nutritional needs for a year. Wrack, like most seaweeds, is rich in iodine, which is an essential micro-nutrient for a healthy thyroid gland. Like other brown seaweeds it is an abundant source of chlorophyll (a and c) and is also rich in many other micro-nutrients, minerals and vitamins, including A, C, K, and niacin (B3).

When one uses seaweed as a tasty concentrate in cooking, one should also be aware that it is possible to consume too much iodine from some seaweeds, particularly kelp, although this would not be a problem with occasional eating. If you consume a seaweed product every single day this becomes a consideration as you don’t want to overdose and block the thyroid gland altogether. Using anything with this degree of regularity generally requires a different approach to dosing. Some samples of dried kelp powder are so rich that a regular daily dose of more than a fraction of a teaspoonful could actually be an iodine overdose over time for susceptible people. This is possibly the reason why goitres, the tell tale swelling of the throat, have always been so common among the Japanese fishing families who use kelp as a major component in their diet. The moral of this tale? A little bit of what you fancy does you good… too much too often and it generally ceases to be a good thing.

For the remainder of this post I shall focus on making wrack powder. Wracks come in a number of different types. Each species has its own characteristics by which it can be identified; there is knotted wrack, serrated wrack, bladder wrack, twisted wrack, channelled wrack, but turned into wrack powder they generally taste and smell pretty similar and can be used in similar ways.

Wracks are fascinating organisms, reproducing by means of mobile sperm and eggs produced in different parts of the algal body. Incredibly, the female reproductive parts actually attract swimming male sperm by secreting pheromones into the water. It should be noted that the young pale green wrack growth can be washed and diced for inclusion in salads where it gives a pleasant vitamin A enriched crunchiness. In Greenland wracks are traditionally used as a boiled green vegetable. They do, in fact, make good greens though it takes a fair amount of cooking to make them tender unless you use only the youngest pale green growth. Wracks are very common. Search for them in the middle intertidal zone and you will normally not be disappointed, but take care not to be greedy as they are also food for many other animals.

Washing wrack to remove debris ready for the drying process

Once you have a few armfuls of wrack it must be washed and dried. These days it is particularly important as our seas are not as clean as they once were. As well as quite a bit of sand, my recent batch, from a pristine bay with very little human habitation, still yielded a small quantity of tell tale blue and yellow plastic flecks. You don’t want to eat these as many plastics are endocrine disruptors and some also release heavy metals as they break down. Unfortunately the inhabitants of the sea all have to eat them. I have long accepted that as a member of the species that has so tragically polluted this planet there is going to be some of this pollution in my food no matter where it comes from. Whilst I seek the cleanest food that I can find it is a reality that all food, whether wild or no, is at least to a small degree contaminated with our chemical wastes. Seaweed is not more contaminated than anything else grown in sea or soil, but it is certainly no exception either.

Drying can be accomplished on a washing line, or even over a rock on a sunny day with a good wind. Alternatively, dry your wrack by hanging near a fire, or use a dehydrator. A fast blender of the type used to make raw-food smoothies will generally be sufficient to grind the wrack to a powder providing that you process it in small quantities.

image of a hand with knotted wrack float bladders

Characteristic float chambers of knotted wrack.

spiral wrack twists

The twists of spiral wrack accentuated by drying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photographs below show the drying process in action and the final product! A teaspoonful of wrack powder provides an umami component to stocks and sauces whilst providing essential micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Once the flavour is cooked-in a little it is delicious and well worth the time taken to gather and prepare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AS WITH ALL NEW FOODS, if you decide to try eating any kind of seaweed then please eat just a little at first to make sure that it agrees with you. Food allergies and intolerances can occur to just about anything!

For more information on the wracks check out our friend’s great page here...

 

Worth taking a trip out for in January…

The middle of winter can seem like the very bleakest of times! Much of the bounty of the autumn months has passed and in early January the weather does much to deter even the most ardent foragers. However, for those who still dare to venture out and seek the sheltered spots a pleasant surprise awaits. The youngest and tenderest of the spring vegetables are already with us, together with a number of tasty and nutritious plants and fungi that can be found by the determined all winter long.

Let’s see if I can tempt you outside to track down and gather some nutritious winter wild food…

CHICKWEED, Stellaria media, can be found all through the winter and in fact is probably at its level best in winter and early spring. The tender tops of the plant make the best vegetable while the lower portion of the stems can be a bit tough and stringy. I eat the whole upper portion of the plant and the leaves from lower down. Chickweed (see photo) has one very distinct identification feature which will soon turn you into a chickweed expert when it comes to finding this plant. The stems possess a SINGLE row of hairs along one side only. Every time the row of hairs reaches a nodal point (where the leaves and shoots emerge) it moves around the stem by one-quarter turn before continuing on. This subtle feature is actually very easy to see if you hold the plant up so that it is silhouetted by the sky behind.

chickweed

close up showing the distinctive single row of hairs

…chickweed is not only one of our commonest wild vegetables, it is also one of the most delicious! It can be enjoyed as a tender and flavoursome salad plant, or made into a somewhat iconic winter soup. I like to add a smaller proportion of another good wild winter vegetable – the red dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum, when I make my chickweed soup.

Here is the recipe.

 

 

 

WINTER CHICKWEED SOUP RECIPE (Serves 2 to 3)

Half a dozen small potatoes – washed but not peeled; chopped into small chunks
3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
3 large handfuls of washed chickweed herb
2 large handful of red dead-nettle tops

winter soup ingredients

As soups go this is about as simple and easy as it gets. It is truly delicious though and full of winter vegetable cheer!

Chop the shallots and garlic, and gently saute them in a little extra virgin olive oil until they begin to lightly brown then remove them from the heat.

Add the shallots, garlic and chopped potatoes along with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper to a small saucepan with just enough water to cover them. Bring them to the boil for a minute or so then and turn down the heat to a low simmer. Add the chickweed herb and red dead-nettle tops and stir frequently. Keep checking to see if the potatoes are cooked. When the potatoes are soft you can either blend in the pan or transfer the whole mixture to a blender. The soup, once blended together, has a wonderful body and is thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at once with crusty bread!

chickweed soup

Perennial Wall Rocket

Perennial wall rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia

 

PERENNIAL WALL ROCKET, Diplotaxis tenuifolia,  is another good winter plant to look out for. This plant with small four-petalled yellow flowers survives quite well through the winter though it may not look its level best in the coldest of weather. The leaves look a lot like the kind of rocket that you can buy in salad bags from the supermarket and the flavour is about the same too though a little bit more spicy! This picture was taken in late December… in the middle of winter you will need to pick through the plants a bit to find the best leaves, but they are truly delicious!

 

COMMON or GREY OYSTER MUSHROOM, Pleurotus ostreatus, frequently fruits during the middle of winter. The chillier weather of December brings good pickings of one of the tastiest of all mushrooms, the FIELD BLEWIT, Lepista personata, although these are rarely found much after the beginning of January. January however is the peak time for a tasty bright orange-yellow mushroom that grows on dead and decaying trees and stumps…

Velvet shanks

VELVET SHANK, Flammulina velutipes, grows in dense clusters and the stems are covered in a brown velvet down over the lower portion. The gills are pale cream in colour and are not attached to the stem. There is also no evidence of a ring of any kind on the stem. These mushrooms are widely cultivated throughout Asia and you may have even come across them for sale in supermarkets in the UK under the name of ‘enoki’ or ‘enokitake’. The cultivated enoki has a much smaller cap and is wholly whitish, which means that it does not actually look as if it is the same mushroom as the wild one, but it is!

velvet shanks plate of

Velvet shanks are really worth going out to find. Old hedgerows, the edges of ancient trackways and green lanes make the perfect foraging spot for this prize and you may have to poke about in the hedge bottoms a fair bit on order to spot the half-buried orangey clusters of mushroom caps growing from the deadwood at the base of hedging shrubs such as field maple, hawthorn and wych elm. They are not too fussy however and I once even found a cluster growing from the base of a leylandii conifer hedge at the bottom of someone’s garden! Just be sure not to eat any that you find growing from yew as it is possible that they could have taken on some of the toxicity found in that majestic tree. They are probably fine but just to be on the safe side…

A walk around the field margins and woodland edges at the moment will turn up quite a number of food plants to experiment with. The youngest of CLEAVERS are up and if they grow in your area then young ALEXANDERS are available too. Both are delicious steamed and served with a knob of butter however It is best not to attempt to eat cleavers raw as the tiny hooked hairs that cover the plant can be somewhat scratchy to the throat. JACK BY THE HEDGE, also known as GARLIC MUSTARD, has actually been up for some time and its early tender basal leaves tasting of both mustard and garlic are just right for an al-fresco sandwich or to garnish a dish of cooked potatoes.

So… walking boots on, hand baskets at the ready! There really is no need to stop foraging just because it is the middle of winter and it can be very rewarding indeed for those who take the effort to go out and look. I hope you have enjoyed the few pointers that I have given to get you on your way but there is no substitute for direct experience. Have a happy and nutritious winter foraging adventure!

Voted Best Food Foraging Education Provider of the Year 2017! (England South)

Sharing a little success in the 2017 Food & Drink Awards with our readers… as it’s now official!
The Wild Side of Life has been awarded the title Best Food Foraging Education Provider of the Year (England South) and our fabulous Devon Forager’s Retreat on the North Devon coast was also voted best in category!


The 2017 Food & Drink Awards Press Release

March 6, 2017

Food and drink award logo

Trade Monthly Announce the Winners of the 2017 Food & Drink Awards

United Kingdom, 2017– Trade Monthly Magazine have announced the winners of the 2017 Food & Drink Awards.

We are pleased to announce that The Wild Side of Life, based in Avebury, Wiltshire, has won the award of Best Food Foraging Education Provider (England South) and The Devon Forager’s Retreat, also run by The Wild Side of Life has been voted best in category!

The 2017 Food & Drink Awards raises a glass to those whose devotion, innovative thinking, and tireless efforts have seen them achieve outstanding results. The extraordinary performance delivered by those in this industry, deserves to be both rewarded and recognised, and we are proud to have that honour.

Speaking on the awards Rachel Davenport, Awards Coordinator said: “The food and drink industry has such a pivotal role in our daily lives; as such it requires only the most dedicated and hardworking individuals and firms to keep it going. I would like to congratulate every single one of my deserving winners and wish them the very best for the future.”

Trade Monthly prides itself on the validity of its awards and winners. The awards are given solely on merit and are awarded to commend those most deserving for their ingenuity and hard work, distinguishing them from their competitors and proving them worthy of recognition.

To learn more about our award winners and to gain insight into the working practices of the “best of the best”, please visit the Trade Monthly’s website (//www.trade-monthly.com/) where you can access the winners supplement.


Hurrah! Thank you to those who nominated us (whoever you are) and to all of you who voted for The Wild Side of Life. We are committed to providing you with high quality, enriching & educational experiences in the years to come and to foraging with many more of you in our beautiful woods, hedgerows and meadows! Special THANKS must of course go to the wonderful Natascha Kenyon, who has given so generously of her time, expertise and inspiration over the past 5 years.

fred holding a pignut

Putting the Spice Back…

Where is the spice? That is a good question, as one could be forgiven for thinking our ancestors in these islands didn’t care much for it before the middle ages. I can’t help thinking that this may be a misconception that has arisen out of the cuisine of the last 100 years though; doubtless somewhere there is a food historian who can put me on the right track?…

Jack by the hedge

Jack-by-the-Hedge: image by Sannse at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (//www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

We DO have wild spices growing here in Britain and Ireland. Much of the knowledge surrounding their use must be lost if it was ever here in the first place, so I am going to do a bit of learning by experimentation instead and from time to time share my experiments here, with you!

Jack by the Hedge / garlic mustard – Alliaria petiolata

I thought I would start with this plant because it is a good contender. Not only is it in the very edible cabbage and mustard family, its leaves are hot and spicy, tasting of mustard as well as garlic – as its other name, ‘garlic mustard’, explains… but what of the seeds I thought? According to Saul et al, in “Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine”1, garlic mustard was definitely in use as a spice in the baltic region of Europe over 6000 years ago.

seeds of garlic mustard

Jack by the hedge – garlic mustard in seed

Some time ago I remember sampling some out in the forest as I was walking along a shady wooded ride and being immediately taken aback by their ‘kick’. I revisited this place where garlic mustard grows all around, so as to recreate the sense of connection with this experience and take my spice journey further on to its next stage.

The first obstacle I came up against was that the seed pods appeared to be all ripening at different stages, meaning that some seed fell to the ground as soon as I touched the plant, but much of it was practically inseparable from the stringy seed cases surrounding it.

I soon resolved to harvest all of the seed pods regardless of maturity and attempt to ripen them in the sun when I got home. I found that I could save a lot of time by holding a large bag open and stripping the whole seed pods en-mass by sliding my hand down the stems. Here is the result…

garlic mustard seed separated from the pods

garlic mustard seed separated from the pods by sun drying then rubbing between the palms

Once at home, I placed the seed pods in a large glass dish and let the sun do its work. I brought them in each evening and waited until things began to warm again each day before putting them back outside on a table in the sun. After about 3 days more than three quarters of the seed was fairly ripe and I judged that the remainder had probably hardened enough to strip from the pods without much damage.

I found that the best way to remove the seed was by rubbing the pods between my palms, and to twist any that were stubbornly hanging on to their seed between my fingers until they ruptured and twisted undone. The seeds, being small and heavy, all sank to the bottom of the bowl. I then used a colander to separate the seed pods from the seed – putting the whole lot through it 3 times…

garlic mustard seed ready for storage

SPICE SCORE: 8 out of 10

I dried the seed a little further to lower the moisture content prior to storage, simply keeping it out in our warm scullery on a stainless steel tray for a couple of days.

The result is surprisingly good. Though the quantity obtained is small, it is very hot, packing a real punch. It is also pleasant in texture when used as a whole seed. There are definitely overtones of horseradish, garlic and pepper and a little will go a very long way but be warned, the heating effect is cumulative!

 

 

1 Saul H, Madella M, Fischer A, Glykou A, Hartz S, Craig OE (2013) Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070583

St. George’s Mushroom, Wild Garlic and Elderberry Antipasti

Today I awoke to the sight of a magnificent frost covering the Avebury stone circle and a bluer than blue sky heralding a bright (though as it turned out showery) spring day. Needing to re-shuffle the stores in the pantry I noticed there was still a three-quarter full 2 litre jar of dried St. George’s mushrooms left over from last season, so with the new season definitely underway now I decided to get creative with the flavour of these delightful mushrooms by making an antipasti that combines them with wild garlic ‘capers’ and dried elderberries. You can make this antipasti of mushrooms with either fresh or dried St. George’s and incorporate other foraged ingredients to make a flavour combination that is uniquely your own. Using dried mushrooms has the advantage that it can be made from stores whenever a fresh batch is needed. A lot of other mushrooms will preserve well using this method too, but there is only one way to find out which flavours will work together and that is to experiment. Here is my recipe, enjoy!…

Fresh and picked St George's mushrooms

Forager’s St. George’s Mushroom, Wild Garlic and Elderberry Antipasti

Ingredients:

1.5 litres of dried St. George’s Mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa). You can use fresh St. George’s Mushrooms instead if you like, but you will have to experiment with the volume of brine (vinegar/salt/water) to ensure that there is enough for the quantity that you have. The recipe below should work with approximately 1.5kg of fresh St. George’s too.
A small handful of wild garlic flower buds.
A small handful of dried elderberries (optional).
A thinly sliced knob of root ginger.
2 tbsp of sea salt (I used herb salt in mine).
A generous twist of black pepper.
400ml olive oil.
400ml mustard oil (you could substitute sunflower).
800ml organic cider vinegar.
400ml warm water.
(All quantities are approximate)

Step 1: Marinating

St georges marinadingPlace the mushrooms, elderberries, ginger, wild garlic buds and black pepper in a large Kilner jar or other similar storage jar. Mix together the warm water, cider vinegar and sea salt until the sea salt is completely dissolved. Pour this liquid brine over the solid ingredients in the storage jar, stir with a wooden spoon and allow the whole to marinade in a warm place for 2 hours.

Step 2: Brining

the brining stage

Strain the liquid from the mushrooms in the jar using a colander or sieve and place it in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over a high heat, stirring occasionally. Do not let the liquid boil over. Once you have the brine on a rolling boil, add all of the mushrooms and other solids back into the liquid and bring the mixture back up to the boil, allowing it to boil for 4 minutes.  Note: Longer boiling times are required for some other edible mushrooms, particularly those in the Russula (brittle cap) and Lactarius (milk cap) groups, as well as honey fungus (Armillaria mellea). If in doubt please consult a reliable source for information about the mushrooms that you intend to pickle. After 4 minutes remove the saucepan from the heat completely. NOTE: After this point all utensils, bowls and jars that come into contact with the mushrooms MUST be sterilised first (using boiling water is fine).

Step 3: Draining

draining the mushrooms

Once again separate the solids from the liquid by straining. You can bottle the brining liquid in a tightly sealed sterilised jar for future use and it ought to be good for at least another couple of brinings. You can always top it up if you start to find you haven’t got enough, so best to keep it for later and avoid wastage.

Spread the solid part, mushrooms, spices and all, onto a clean tea cloth that has been boil washed to remove any traces of taint that may be left behind from washing powder or detergent. Ideally place the dish cloth on an oven tray or similar which will catch any moisture that drips through. Leave the mushrooms to drain for an hour or so, then carefully press out any excess moisture by rolling the solids up in the tea cloth. Do not press too hard or you will ruin their appearance and crush them!

Step 4: Covering in oil

filling the jars

Carefully ladle the dried off mushrooms into the sterilised jars that you have prepared one layer at a time. Cover each layer in your chosen vegetable oil. I have started experimenting with a 60:40 mixture of mustard oil and extra virgin olive oil. So far this seems to be working a treat, imparting a warmness to the pickle as well as improving the colour, without being too thick or having too much flavour. By pouring the oil into the mushrooms in layers and stirring very slowly you will be liberating as many air bubbles as possible from the oil, which will improve the shelf life of your pickle.

Step 5: Labelling

writing the labelsAlways remember to label your produce carefully. Everyone must have found an unlabelled jar at the back of the cupboard at some point – with unknown contents that are probably well past their best. Always put the date of manufacture on the label.

Your pickled mushrooms will improve in flavour over a month or more. You should aim to start eating them within 2 months and once you have opened a jar keep it in the fridge and consume within a couple of weeks. For this reason it is better to make lots of small jars rather than one big jar full! Unopened jars kept in a cool place should keep for at least 6 months, probably a good bit longer.

Bon appetite! Enjoy with salad leaves, artichoke hearts or ladled onto doorstops of bread!

If you would like to learn how to identify and find the St. George’s mushroom for yourself, the time is now and the season is short! Why not come and join us at The Wild Side of Life in Wiltshire for a day of St. George’s hunting and dining using wild food ingredients, and enjoy your St. George’s mushrooms over a glass or two of champagne. Bring a friend along to enjoy the fun with you and your second ticket will be half price this year . For more information on this special forage and feast (Saturday 7th of May 2016)

forage day champaigne picnic

The St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic (7th May 2016)

St. George’s Mushrooms and Morels, the Time of the Green Man

This is a blog post about the tradition of St. George and the St. George’s mushroom. For details of the forthcoming St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic please go here. 

St. George’s day approaches (23rd April) and heralds the beginning of spring revelry.  The Catholic St. George was a graft onto older stock and the slayer, or perhaps handler, of dragons is found throughout Europe, the near east and Russia today as a protector and patron saint. In earlier times he took the form of the ‘green man’, representing the rejuvinatory power of spring and the mysterious balance of light and dark, growth, decay, winter and summer that is central to the farmer’s and the forager’s year. In Orthodox Christianity as well as in Russian folk magic and even among the shamen of Siberia, the protector George is often called upon, consulted and prayed to before going ahead with any major work

Green man  - by Grinagog

The Green Man – by Grinagog (grinagog.deviantart.com)

Al Khidr, the Green Saint of Islamic folklore is perhaps another guise assumed by George, or perhaps more accurately another echo that has come down to us via that same ancient river of belief. In the holy-land they are venerated together at one and the same shrines (for example in Bethlehem and Jerusalem) along with Elijah, bringing Jew, Christian and Muslim to enter the same places of worship.  Similarly, in parts of India the cult of Kwaja Khadir is observed by both Muslim and Hindu. In some areas of Eastern Europe the festivities of Green George (Gergiovden) are marked by decking a young man in foliage resembling very much the more modern Hastings Jack in the Green and often he is paraded through the streets prior to being given a good ducking in the village pond or local river.  This festival is very popular in many regions, particularly among the Romani, taking place over the feast of St. George as rendered before post-mediaeval calendrical changes on the 6th of May.

Very soon too, in English fields and meadows, it will be time to make May garlands and walk among the wildflowers of spring purely for pleasure and contentment. In the folk customs surrounding our old May-day the ‘Green One’ will be readied to marry the May Queen, his bride. In England too we have our own traditions to commemorate his life and his passing, as in the (probably now garbled) Padstow Obby ‘Oss song…

“O’ where is St. George, O’ where us he O’
He’s out in his long boat, all on the salt sea O’.
Up flies the Kite and down tails the lark O’
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe
and she died in her own Park O'”

In contemplation and in honour of these cycles of time and of the year, take a walk out into the grassy meadows and limestone woods to seek the plump creamy-white fruit bodies of St. George’s mushroom. A sign given forth by the earth herself to warn us that night time frosts are now coming to a close and it is the time to be industrious in the fields.

Calocybe gambosum - St. George's mushroom

Calocybe gambosum – St. George’s mushroom

It smells pleasantly ‘floury’ (as if fresh from the miller’s wheel) and often occurs in large wheels in the turf. St. George himself was said to have been ground into flour or ‘broken on a wheel’ at his execution and spread upon the land by his Roman captors, as commemorated in the lines of the old English mummers play “I’ll grind yer bones to dust and send you to the Devil to make mince pie crust”.

St. George's, chickweed and dandelion blooms

St. George’s, chickweed and dandelion blooms are a good combination!

Be very careful to identify it correctly as there are some other whitish mushrooms that are very poisonous. St. George’s mushroom is very tasty though and highly sought after and prized in Italy and France. In Britain it has undergone something of a revival in recent years and it is to be found on the menu’s of many of the better restaurants and gourmet pubs. It can be sautéd in butter and goes well with shallots, asparagus, bacon, eggs and dandelion blossoms. It can also be pickled. The delicate complex flavour is easily overpowered by bolder ones and this is a mushroom to use as the feature of a dish, not a side portion, so take some care about who or what you partner it with.

 

A warm tossed St. George's salad

A warm tossed St. George’s salad

Also highly prized at this time of the year are the elusive morels, often appearing in limestone woods and on sandy soils during the spring. The caps of these fungi, (there are several species) have an irregular honeycomb like appearance and the cap and stem are hollow. They are difficult to find but highly regarded as a cooking ingredient.

Morchella esculenta - Edible morel

Morchella esculenta – Edible morel

Morels should be dried for storage and re-hydrated using warm water, herbs and a little salt for half an hour or so before cooking as this improves their flavour considerably. They go well with cream based sauces and add something very special to many dishes. Fresh morels can also be stuffed – one popular recipe uses crab meat, egg, mayonnaise and breadcrumbs – and baked for 15 minutes at 180°C. Be sure of your identification and do not confuse them with the poisonous gyromitra or turban fungus that looks a bit similar. Never eat morels raw as occasionally this has caused poisoning! Once again, if in doubt a visit to an expert is required.

If you’d like to sample the joy of Finding your own St. George’s mushrooms then why not try out our St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic on Saturday 7th May 2016. You can find out about it here.

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//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khidr
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Pickled Chanterelles for the Festive Season

pickle


Pickled oak milk caps – Lactarius quietus

This year I have been putting a lot of thought into Christmas presents for the family and I also have a bit of a glut of delicious wild mushrooms in my stores, so I thought I’d share a pickled mushroom antipasti recipe with you which is delicious as a cold salad and can be made with many types of fresh and dried wild mushrooms.

 

To prepare the pickle from previously dried mushrooms you must first marinade them correctly for 24 hours to soften them. Ideally, if you can, use mushrooms that you have dried at a low temperature (less than about 45 deg) as when they re-constitute they will be a lot more similar to the fresh mushrooms that you started off with.

Marinade for dried mushrooms

To marinade dried mushrooms for use in pickle or elsewhere this is the procedure that I follow. I put the mushrooms in a pint glass until it is three-quarters full, then add a 50/50 mixture of just boiled water and cold tap water so that the mushrooms are just covered. Next I add:

  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • Half a teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 2 cloves of beaten/crushed garlic
  • A generous dash of balsamic or elderberry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
  • A generous grind of black pepper

Stir the mixture thoroughly, cover it with a saucer and leave it to stand for 24 hours for some marinading magic!

Preparing the wild mushroom antipasti

If you are using fresh mushrooms then make sure that you cut away and remove any blemishes or brown areas that might be caused by food spoilage organisms. If you are using dried mushrooms you will of course have done this prior to the drying process.

preparations

The ingredients are assembled. It goes against the grain but the mushrooms must be thoroughly cleaned – meaning washed if necessary!

Equipment

  • Stainless steel or non-reactive saucepan
  • Sterilised jars with lids
  • A sterilised food sieve
  • A sterilised ladle
  • A sterilised tablespoon
  • A boil washed tea-towel or similar that has been through a thorough rinse-cycle to remove any traces of detergent

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litres of chopped fresh mushrooms or marinated dried mushrooms
  • 1 litre of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar (a little less refined perhaps but I enjoy its full flavour and bite)
  • 600 ml of water
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A tablespoon of thyme
  • 10 cloves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • A generous amount of olive oil (not extra-virgin, and avoid ‘pomace’ oils which are often contaminated with hydrocarbon solvents)

Method

Add all of the ingredients except for the olive oil to the saucepan and bring them to a rolling boil. Add the mushrooms and bring the liquid back to the boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes for small mushrooms and up to 10 minutes if you are using larger pieces or whole button mushrooms. Note – some mushrooms, for example the more acrid milk caps eaten in eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, require longer boiling times. The method given here is for mushrooms that can normally be safely eaten using typical western European preparation methods such as frying.

pickling

Remove the mixture from the heat, pour it through the sterilised sieve into the sterilised bowl, cover and allow to cool. Boiling the mushrooms in the vinegar-brine mixture has sterilised them so DO NOT handle them from now on with fingers or un-sterilised utensils.

Once cooled transfer the mushrooms onto the clean tea-towel and folding it in use it to carefully press out any excess moisture. Do not attempt to wring the mushrooms as they are supposed to contain a little vinegar brine and their appearance will be spoiled if you squash them.

drying

Bottle the pickling vinegar-brine mixture for later use. You can re-use it a number of times as its low pH (very acidic) means that it will not go off.

You can now transfer the mushrooms to the sterilised jars. The best way is to add a layer at a time followed by a very slowly poured layer of olive oil, stirring gently between layers. This will remove the majority of air bubbles which could lead to storage problems. Once you have filled the jars in this way and the mushrooms are completely covered by a centimetre or more of oil, then fasten the lids tightly. Remember to include some of the spices that you cooked them with!

Keep pickled mushrooms in a cool dark place for at least one month before opening, preferably two. Once opened refrigerate them and use them up within a couple of weeks to avoid the risk of spoilage. Always use a clean spoon to ladle them out.

That’s it, enjoy! I hope you like my pictures of the pickled trumpet chanterelles that I made as Christmas presents for my family yesterday 🙂

At The Wild Side of Life we don’t sell pickled mushrooms, but if you’d like an original present why not purchase one of our courses where the lucky recipient will learn all about how to identify, forage and prepare wild mushrooms correctly such as these? We have a 4 day course and several 1 day courses programmed for Autumn 2016!

Autumn Mushroom Season Update 2015

The 2015 autumn mushroom season is well underway now, with choice chanterelles, porcini, saffron milk caps, chicken of the woods and many other things being found over much of the country. Things in Wiltshire and parts of the south /south west have kicked off pretty early due to the unusually cool and damp summer that we have been having, and if we receive sufficient rain as autumn progresses we could be in for a long mushroom season! It’s a great time to dust off that wicker basket, grab a small kitchen knife and get out there in the woods and fields to do some mushroom hunting

… as I write this I am tucking into a sumptuous omelette of forest mushrooms and preparing this year’s batch of amethyst deceiver vodka (a Russian speciality) after spending much of the past 3 days hunting for and eating gourmet mushrooms.

Omelette in progress

Amethyst deceiver vodka and a collection of wild mushrooms destined to be an omelette!

We have some great courses for you this autumn including the Secret Sunday Mushroom Club (recommended by BBC Countryfile Magazine as a way to learn to pick mushrooms safely) and our extremely popular Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Days with foraging and mushroom tasting that will delight chefs and foragers alike. We are hosting the UK’s first 2 day Medicinal Mushroom Conference in November where some well known authors, foragers, mushroom growers and herbalists (Roger Philips, Matthew Rooney, Fred Gillam, Cristina Cromer) will team up to raise awareness among health care practitioners and the general public about the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. After a short pause to take stock over the middle of winter, we will start 2016 with our Small Game Preparation course and the very popular St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic in early May. We’ve got things happening in Wiltshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset, The New Forest and the Gower in South Wales, as well as leading foraging team building events throughout the autumn – so you are keeping us on our toes!

We’ve just heard that Vegetarian Living Magazine will be running a feature on mushroom foraging this coming October entitled ‘On The Toadstool Trail’ featuring exclusive hints and tips from our very own Fred the Forager (who brings 32 years of mushroom foraging experience to your table), so do look out for that… or you can get an exclusive member’s preview… here

secret sunday Mushroom clun

The Secret Sunday Mushroom Club in action

Starting in mid September – The Secret Sunday Mushroom Club: 18.5 hours of tuition spread over 4 non-consecutive Sundays and over several excellent habitats. Watch the occurrence of mushrooms change as the season progresses and see them at all stages of growth. Includes a guest ticket for one day and 12 months email support with identification. Locations are given out a few days before each meeting to allow time for reconnaissance, ensuring the best chances of success! Click the link for info and dates. Cost: £145.00. Gift vouchersGift Certificates also available.

Available from September through November – Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Days: A day out in the woods encountering choice edible species and some of the most significant poisonous ones. Get to know your death caps, destroying angels, fool’s funnels and deadly webcaps before learning to find the choice species such as ceps, chanterelles, blewits, bay boletes and more, then enjoy your finds with speciality breads and a glass or two of wine in the woods. Click the link for info and dates. Cost £90.00. Gift vouchers also available.

November 14th and 15th – The UK’s First Medicinal Mushrooms Conference: A full weekend discovering the healing potential of medicinal mushrooms, including guided foraging, talks, presentations and demonstrations by Roger Philips (author of “Mushrooms”), Matthew Rooney (the UK’s only bio-dynamic medicinal mushroom cultivator at www.mushroomtable.com), Fred Gillam (Fred the Forager and author of “Poisonous Plants in Great Britain”), Martin Palmer author of “Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide”), Cristina Cromer (Medical Herbalist and former lecturer in herbal medicine at the University of Westminster) and Natascha Kenyon (forager and concocter of medicinal potions at The Wild Side of Life). Prices vary on a sliding scale – see conference web page.

preparing turkey tail


Preparation of turkey tail mushroom full spectrum extract, an immune modulator

Saturday March 12th – Small Game Preparation: This one day course will take you through all of the basic skills and knowledge required to prepare small game such as rabbits, pheasant or wood pigeon in the field for food. Not for gratuitous hunters or those who see hunting as sport, this course is designed to equip those who choose to eat meat from the wild with the necessary skills to do so with as little waste as possible, and teach relevant knowledge about hygiene, knife skills, game, roadkill and the law. Cost £85.00. Gift vouchers available.

Starting in April – The Secret Sunday Spring Forager’s Club: 18 hours of tuition spread over 4 non-consecutive Sundays and over several excellent habitats including ancient woodland, chalk grassland and river meadows. Learn to identify, gather and use a wide range of spring foraged ingredients including wonderous wild garlic, tasty burdock shoots, tender hogweed fiddles, crunchy pignuts, citrussy pine candles and more. You will also learn how to avoid Europe’s most poisonous plants. Click the link for info and dates. Cost: £130.00. Gift vouchers available.

Saturday 7th or Sunday 15th May – St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic: The weather should be warming up now and there is nothing nicer than a champagne picnic in the spring sunshine. You will be taught how to seek the delicious St. George’s mushroom effectively, how to identify it beyond any doubt and how to combine it with other spring wild food ingredients to the greatest effect.We will enjoy a foraged dish of super St. George’s and wild herbs in the afternoon along with some glasses of bubbly and sample a range of other sumptuous wild food treats. Cost £85.00.

st george's basket

A basket of delicious St. George’s mushrooms in the spring

Don’t forget our gift vouchers make a wonderful surprise gift for anyone, whether it is for Christmas, someone’s birthday or just for the joy of giving something special to someone you love. I hope to see you all out in a wood or meadow sometime over the coming season, or perhaps next spring picking St. George’s mushrooms. Until then, have a truly wonderful mushroom season, may it be both bountiful and fascinating!

Best Wishes

Fred the Forager / The Wild Side of Life

A Day with the Bohemian Mojo Project

The following extract comes directly from //www.bohemianmojo.com/index.php/129-fff and you can read it directly (with images from the day) 

The Wild Side of Life is proud to support the wonderful, inspirational Bohemian Mojo Project

“The idea of foraging conjures images of grubbily rooting through muddy undergrowth in the heart of some primeval forest. This was only half true on our amazing day with Fred Gillam, the foraging wizard…

 Part I

The morning was cold, windy and threatened of a downpour as we piled in the car, trying our darnedest not to be victim to Mojo Meantime again! Today we were foraging with Fred Gillam, the amazing forager. We didn’t yet know just exactly how amazing he was but were excited to find out.  I have to admit even though I was excited to sightsee I was a little skeptical at what we might be foraging at Uffington White Horse which was where we to start our adventure for the day. What could we possibly forage on an open hillside? Didn’t foraging require the dank, damp, and brooding underbelly of ancient forests???

Fred met us in the parking lot; only slightly behind schedule we bundled up and began heading up the hill.  As we stepped out onto the expanse, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment to take in the amazing view around the valley, sobering my thoughts as I tried to imagine how this must have looked centuries upon centuries ago and Fred began filling us in on some ancient history.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was going to be no ordinary day; we were in the presence of yet another MajicMaker and could expect an adventure for sure.

As we fought the wind and traipsed up the hill Fred began pointing out the flora and fauna and my eyes began to see the landscape in a whole new way.  We befriended Nettle, tasting its succulent little leaves with no adverse effects (once Fred taught us the secret). We collected small bits of Yellow Dock, Amaranth, and even sampled some Hawthorne berries.

Walking along the impressive ridge, we worked our way over to Dragon Hill; which possesses an unassuming, yet somehow riveting presence. Legend has it that this is where St. George slew the Dragon (a legend I find quite distasteful for a variety of reasons) and the small, bare spot in the middle of the hill that will grow no foliage is where the Dragon’s blood was spilt.  I liked Fred’s suggestion much better that this was indeed a place for ritual and sacred activities.  There is a Hawthorne tree at the entrance to the hill so I picked a few berries and walked onto the plateau, allowing the land itself to draw me in. The sensations that happened next were unexplainable as I felt a heaviness settle onto my heart, perhaps it is no accident that Hawthorne grows in ready reach. 

As the wind buffeted, I left the hilltop filled with a sense of having touched the primordial pulse. As I was wondering how to clear my head and my senses and dive back into the day, the most perfect downhill slope presented itself…Nothing for it but to tuck and roll! It was perfect medicine as I bounced down the hill, smelling the sweet grass and rich earth with each rotation, finally coming to rest on the valley floor. Silly with laughter and a bit dizzy, I was ready to plunge on to the next phase. Looking back up the hill to see if there were any other takers, I clapped and cheered as Fred the Forager and Michelle follow suit, bounce, bounce, bounce. After a little more wandering and learning we made our way back to the cars, ready to get some lunch and continue to the Savernake forest. 
As we left White Horse Hill, I again was struck by the history and pre-history of this place, stopping on the car park ridge for one final sweeping glance of appreciation.

 Part II

We got to the Pub for lunch just in time as the sky opened the floodgates and rain poured. After our lunch of traditional fish and chips, cider, and plenty of heartwarming conversation we were now fast friends and ready to move on to the Savernake Forest….but not without stopping first at King Alfred’s blowing stone. The Mojo team was a twitter, what the heck was a blowing stone??? According to legend, the blowing stone was how King Alfred summoned his troops to fight off the Viking hoards and further legend reports that anyone capable of blowing the stone correctly, which will allow it to be heard up on White Horse Hill, is the future King of England.; Needless to say, none of us are going to be ordained as royalty any time soon. We all took several attempts, allowing ourselves to settle into the good humor of the ridiculous attempts to make a stone produce a magical note. By the time we were all light headed from our attempts, we decided it was time to continue to the Savernake. On to the mushrooms!!

The Grand Avenue into the Savernake Forest is impressive. The ancient trees and overgrowth instill a sense of mystery and hushed appreciation. We climbed out of our cars and were immediately regrouped by Fred’s command that for the next few hours we pick nothing, touch nothing, that he didn’t approve of first. We had no idea there were so many varieties of mushrooms with so many adverse effects! The rest of the afternoon was spent rummaging under fern leaves, looking into piles of leaves and the underside of felled trees. Majken proved to be the master of forest foraging. Her skillful eye and quick hand soon filled our foraging basket under Fred’s careful and informative tutelage. Soon we had enough mushrooms and other foliage like wild cress and rocket to compliment a lovely dinner. The rain began to pour again so we decided to adjourn to Bridge Cottage and prepare our day’s efforts. Alun graciously provided and prepared wild partridge. Fred cooked up our mushrooms, and the rest of us tossed up a wild salad and poured the wine we had acquired just the day before in Wales.

Dinner was served!! Cheers to fabulous friends, foraging and rekindling curiosity for forgotten times.”

With warm thanks to Stephanie, Michelle, Majken and of course Alun!