This weekend we were away with some (very posh!) friends in Henley on Thames, whilst out walking we came across the most extraordinary sight. A tree full of apples – given that it is the end of November this was quite astonishing – the tree was completly bare of leaves.
The kids jumped up and grabbed a few and we tried them – they not only looked, but tasted like REALLY GOOD Golden Delicious before the supermarkets got in on the act and they all became fluffy, texture-free and tasteless. The tree was too high to allow us to gather properly, but we tucked in to as many as we could right here and then!
The Chesterfield Transition Abundance project deals with unwanted fruit for more details see http://www.transitionchesterfield.org.uk/content/shaking-trees
Well, as anyone who has been on one of my Wild Food Walks will know I don’t know my fungi and I can’t identify toadstools or tell you which is an edible or a poisonous mushroom.
In fact the lexicon-ology (if there is such a word) of mushrooms and /or toadstools has never been ‘precisely defined, nor is there consensus on application’ says the modern day font of all knowledge Wikipedia, it goes on ‘There is no clear-cut delineation between edible and poisonous fungi, so that a “mushroom” may be edible, poisonous, or unpalatable… the term “toadstool” is nowadays used in storytelling when referring to poisonous or suspect mushrooms’
Anyway in this week’s copy of the Big Issue Paul and Scruffy writing for the ‘Green Shoots’ column encouraged readers to get out on a guided mushroom walk and this weekend that is exactly what I did in my local park with expert Glen as part of this autumn’s Chesterfield Transition Skills Share workshops.
Despite it being quite late in the season (the walk was originally scheduled for 2 weeks ago, but then it was too dry), we managed to find 3 types of edible mushrooms – Field Mushrooms (but not growing in a field), Blewitts and little tiny baby Jews Ears.
We also found several non-edibles – Sulphur Tops, Greasy Tough Shank, Stump Caps, King Arthurs Cakes (little black blobs on trees which are great for keeping embers going in bushcraft fire situations), lots of LBJs (like bird watching there are lots of ‘little brown jobs’ which, with a great deal of skill, time and patience can be identified, but in the field are classified together!) The last mushroom to be found was a beautiful white mushroom which Glen skilfully and quickly identified – this made plain how tricky this is – several of us had books and it looked like any number of mushrooms illustrated and not at all very much like the one it actually was!!
The most useful part of the walk was the way Glen showed everyone how work through a key to identify a mushroom and the different parts and how they are described. He recommended a couple of good books and a website – ‘Collins Gem Mushrooms’ (a great pocket book), Roger Phillips seminal work ‘Mushrooms’ and Roger’s website called simply www.rogersmushrooms.com
Correct identification is of course a real matter of life and death – what a shame we have lost so much knowledge about wild food that our European neighbours have retained. Take a mushroom into any chemist’s shop in France and the pharmacist will be able to identify it for you and give advice as to its suitability for eating – its part of their training!
But you don’t have to be in the depths of the country to find mushrooms as this letter to the Evening Standard from 1970 shows quoted in Richard Maybe’s ‘Food for Free’
‘On Friday at 5.15pm I gathered 2lbs of fine mushrooms in Berkley Sq, London W1 … a couple of yards from the traffic and evidently ignored or mistrusted by passers by. May I express my appreciation to Westminster Council for the welcome free garnish to this morning’s breakfast, tonight’s casserole and the weekend’s Coq-au-Vin.’
Yup, today I started off my sloe gin. We picked the sloes a couple of days ago (don’t you like the lovely basket my brother made for me from willow that he grew himself!) and because we have had no frost and sitting pricking them all with a pin might be tooooo boring, i popped them in the freezer for a couple of days to break the skin a little.
None of the recipes I have come across are too specific, I suppose it depends on how many sloes you can pick and how much gin you can afford! So I had 2 1/2 lb sloes and 1 litre of gin (excuse me mixing my metric and imperial). So I batched this into 2 halves and put sloes and gin into 2 thermos flasks – a tip from my friend Susan – saves trying to ‘post’ sloes into narrow bottle openings! To this (when I have been to the shop!) I will add some where between 5 and 10 oz sugar per flask (again depending on what you read) – so I was reckoning on 8oz each. A couple of places also recommed almond essence, but i don’t have any and I don’t think peppermint or cochineal will suffice! After that its very simple – shake it everyday for 2 weeks, or shake it occasionally, or shake it every day until thesugar has dissolved (or don’t shake it at all!). But everyone seems to agree that it then needs to be left alone or an indeterminate time from 2 months (at the very minimum) to a year or so.
I’ll let you know what it tates like at Christmas – that’s nearly 2 months!