Wild food diary: Winter mushrooms
As the weather gets colder and the evenings draw in, fruiting plants are at their scarcest, but sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts and acorns are about if you hunt hard enough. Acorns can be dried and ground for use as a coffee or flour substitute – but they contain a huge amount of tannin which needs to be removed by soaking them several times. As for fungi, it depends on the weather conditions whether you’ll find any edibles. Jew’s ear or jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) can be found growing most commonly on elder trees all year round. You can pick it even in its dry state and use it either dried and ground as a seasoning or soaked and thinly sliced in stews and stir-fries. Oyster caps (Pleurotus ostreatus) tend to be found in layered clusters on large, felled or fallen beech trunks, and can survive quite severe frosts. Don’t worry if they’re already frozen, they will be fine once thawed! Velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes) – sometimes referred to as the winter agaric and sold as enoki – can also survive winter frosts, their rich chestnut colours shining out through the rather dismal greys and browns of the winter woodlands. They have a lovely, dark brown, velvety stem and can be found growing on many types of deciduous trees, large and small. These rather tasty mushrooms can spice up a winter stew very well: just eat the cap, though, not the rather tough brown stem. Remember to pick responsibly, and never eat anything you cannot identify 100%. If in doubt, leave it out!
Walk Winter Wildfood Recipes
Winter Mushroom Cobbler
For the filling:
Mushrooms, wild or cultivated – try to include some Velvet Shank
Oil for frying
1 onion, prepared and chopped roughly
Chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the scone topping:
175g self-raising flour, plus a little extra
90g Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
150 ml milk, plus a little extra for brushing
Few leaves of wild garlic, chopped
Few leaves of hedge garlic, chopped
If you can find some of the lovely ‘burnt orange’ Velvet Shanks they make a great addition to a warming winter dish such as this hearty cobbler. Rather spicy to be used on their own they are superb added to other less tasty offerings, really boosting the taste level.
To make the filling place onion and prepared mushrooms in a pan with a little oil and/or butter and fry lightly to soften. Add a spoonful of plain flour and work in well, slowly add stock to create a thickish sauce, lighten slightly to finish with a slug of white wine if liked. Season to taste. To make the scone dough; mix the flour with the cheese and season well, add the chopped leaves and milk, mix the dough lightly with a knife until it comes together in a rough ball, turn out onto a well floured board and roll out lightly to 2 – 2.5 cm thick, cut into scone shapes and place on top of the mushroom mix, place in a hot oven until well risen and cooked through, about 15 minutes at 200 degrees C.
If you do not have access to an oven, try baking the scones on a griddle, but flatten the dough mixture out to no more than 1 cm thick and cook both sides on either a griddle or heavy based frying-pan. Serve with the mushroom mix, maybe with a scattering of finely chopped and fried Velvet Shanks on top to add interest and a bit of extra spice.
Oysters in Batter
To serve as nibbles or a starter use 2/3 oyster mushrooms per person
Oystercaps, cleaned and trimmed
Vegetable Oil for deep frying
Batter – 85g Plain flour + 1 tbsp Cornflour
200ml ice cold Cider
Salt & pepper to taste
Dipping Sauce – Either a good sweet soy dipping sauce or try making your own:
Wasabi paste (optional)
First make the batter, mix all ingredients together quickly, do not over-mix as it really does not matter if there is the odd small lump. Heat the oil to 190 degrees C then lightly coat the prepared mushrooms with the batter and cook in small quantities in the hot oil, keep the first ones warm in an oven if you are cooking a lot. Lift the cooked mushrooms out of the oil as they become golden and crisp, leave to drain on kitchen paper for a minute or two before keeping warm in the oven. Continue until all the mushrooms are cooked and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
Mix equal parts of soy sauce with cider and sweeten with 1 tbsp sugar to 3 tbsp each of the cider and soy sauce. Mix well and serve with the hot battered mushrooms. If you like to spice your sauce up a bit try adding a small amount of wasabi paste to the mix!
Fried Jelly Ear or Cloud Ear
This weird jelly-like fungus, found predominantly on Elder trees, can be found and picked all year round. In its natural dried state it is quite hard and unyielding, black on its upper side, slightly lighter on its underside. It can be picked either fresh and rubbery or dried and hard, but if your intention is to dry it anyway why not pick it already dried on the tree – saves you the bother of doing it yourself!
First get the hang of what it looks like fresh then watch out for it on the same trees but dried out after a period with no rain. Pick it off the tree and leave in an warm open place to finish off drying before putting through an old coffee grinder and storing for use as a flavouring in stews, casseroles and sauces as and when required.
You can of course use this fungus fresh, try slicing it thinly into a stir-fry. The texture is however not to everyone’s taste and do be careful if you drop it into hot fat as it can balloon up in an instant – that is how it got the name ‘Cloud Ear’.
Recipes by Sheila Spence
Top image: Velvet Shank mushrooms by Petra Korlevic
Second image: Velvet Shank mushrooms by Guido Gerding
Third image: Oyster cap mushroom by James Lindsey
Final image: Jelly Ear mushroom by Svdmolen