Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - May - Set One

Firstly, apologies for the delay. I hope you find this set another delicious addition to your wild food and natural resources knowledge base. Spring is still upon us with flowers blooming and buds bursting. I hope you are continuing to take note of the progress of all other species we have covered to date. So without delay, here we go.

Plant - Three Cornered Leek (Wild Onion)

Another of the Allium (garlic & onion) family, the Three Cornered Leek has a fantastic flavour with complements Wild Garlic both cooked and raw. At this time, it should be in flower and is hence easily identified from a distance. The white flowers and long stems and leaves make them appear like pale bluebells, with which they can often grow. The leaves, though subtly distinct are similar, but the cross section of the stems is the real give away. Now you can see how it gets its name.

Tree - Oak

I'm quite sure you know the leaf of the oak as well as the distinct acorns, however, there are other aspects of trees which are to be noted at this time, in addition to habitat, these are most notably bark and branch structure which as we discussed, are the purest of forms of identification, since they don't rely on leaf, bud or flower. The problem with learning this method is a requirement to have positive identification in the first place. Often, autumn leaves are left scattered at the base of trees, but with wind can take move them around and in crowded woodland, mistakes can be made.

Here is a clue to positive identification, a cluster of leaves forming from nobbly buds which may still be visible and worth noting for future identification. The leaves are curled and pale, but identifiable as those of an oak at closer inspection. 

Once noted, start taking paces back and widening you view to that of the branch and tree structure which you will note as distinct and familiar. The branches are gnarled and twisted. The tree is sometimes wider than it is tall and has an air strength and age about it.

As a climax forest tree, when mature, it often stands in its own ground with little around it. It can also be found alone in field or meadow, being much older than the grassland which surrounds it. You should be able to spot oaks at a distance and also when young, since the leaves at this stage are of a quite distinct colour. Once this identification has been established, start taking note of the bark.

Oak is an excellent firewood, but heavy and the calorie expenditure of carrying over large distances should be take into consideration. Though a strong building material, the branches are seldom straight and if others are available, it's better served as firewood for heating and cooking. 

The acorns are nutritious, but riddled with tannins, and are thus inedible unless treated. Boiling with multiple changes of water until it stays clear is one method, and boiling is another. Personally, I think acorns taste a bit rubbish, but make a worthy addition to a stew if crushed or powdered and provide fats and protein. 

Fungus - Fairy Ring Champignon

We've previously covered quite distinct fungi, but now that summer is drawing closer, things start to get a bit more interesting, with more and more species available there are more to be confused with and so more care has to be taken. It is now that we have to start learning some of the characteristics of fungi and with the an ability to distinguish between the good guys and the bad which to the untrained eye can look rather similar. 

Let us take the delicious Fairy Ring Champignon and rather deadly Fool's Funnel. They are both the same size and grow in the same habitat (grass) at similar times of year. Although champignon tend to grow in rings, this can be invaded by funnels and so one might lead to another. Both have similar (well, not really) caps and both have a rather long, thin, bare stem (or stipe). Both have thin flesh and similar looking gills and both spore white (more on this in another article). So what are the distinguishing characteristics? 

The Fool's Funnel is slightly depressed in the centre making it a little funnel shaped (no, really?) as compared to the Champignon which is flat to convex and when mature, has a raised spot (umbo) in the centre. The funnel is a dirty white and and the champignon is more of a tawny cream or ochre. The gills of the champignon are pronouncedly wide and the funnel gills can be slightly decurrent, that is to say that they draw down to stem a little, though the champignon gills do touch the stem.Now here is the challenge. From the above descriptions can you picture the two mushrooms, and importantly, mentally highlight the differences. Read back a couple of times before clicking on the following links to take a look.

Fairy Ring Champignon
Fool's Funnel

How did you do? Do you think you can identify both of these with 100% confidence? If not, then like any other edible, do not eat them and clearly don't eat the inedible ones. It is imperative that you are without doubt before consumption. Take some time to identify, photograph and double check the mushrooms you find and with time you will gain confidence.

One final note on Fairy Ring Champignon; they absolutely MUST BE COOKED as like Morels, they are poisonous otherwise. The stems are tough; to be discarded and the caps can be wind dried if you have an excess.

Happy foraging and keep an eye out for complementarity articles.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal. 

NOTE: This article was written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advice to confirm positive identification.

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