Stars of Earth at Stockgrove

We head across the top of the slope and down into fine soft grasses, where bright green forks of Sheep Sorrel peep out. These can be used just like common Sorrel; in soups with onions and cream, or in potato, egg and fish dishes…not to mention, mushrooms!

We now enter Baker’s Wood, an ancient site wreathed in emerald star moss. First up is the crumpled chromatography of a Stereum bracket fungus, residing in a fallen birch.Inedible, but pretty….

Next, at the base of a standing Oak we find a young Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa). The tufts are thick with many frilly layers in grey, beige and white. This is a tasty edible that grows in tufts that are 20-30cm across. The stems are lateral and welded together at the base. I take a little to eat later lightly fried with salt and pepper. Yum! ( My kid is not impressed and resorts to frankfurters).

Grifola frondosa (hen of the woods, cluck cluck!)

Many Earthballs (Schleroderma citrinum) abound in the leaf litter and poke out of decaying stumps.

Scleroderma citrinum

Phil points out a Tough/Spindle Shank (Colybia fusipes), a rubbery brick reddish mushroom with a clumping habit. It isn’t exactly poisonous, but you wouldn’t be that tempted to eat it either. Though the texture does remind one of Jelly Babies..

.

Tough Shank…edible as old boots.

The prize for the most weird definitely goes to the Earth Stars ( Giastrum sps) that we discover after giving up on finding them on the way back to the car. These mushrooms have fruiting bodies that look like octopuses, with coiling leathery tendrils below a cephalic ‘head’. You can’t eat them, but you can watch and wonder at their wonderful weirdness….. they even raise themselves off the ground like little UFOs,and react to dry weather by curling their ‘tentacles’ (Phil knows the proper scientific term, not me) over their delicate spores. In damp weather they unravel and become Octopuses. Sort of.

Older Earth Star has released its spores.
Earthstar enjoying damp weather!

Last but not least, I spot some Wood Sorrel (Oxalis) which has the same lemony tang as Common Sorrel but is nothing like a relation. This great little clover like plant grows at the base of trees in acid soils, such as here at the Greensand Way. It has a red stem. Myself and an ex boyfriend once lived off handfuls of Wood Sorrel, half a jar of fish paste and a crate of cider for 2 days whilst waiting for a hitch hike out of a remote Scottish Loch. Very tasty it was, too. Full of Vitamin C, it was historically used to prevent scurvy.

Though that didn’t stop our nice middle aged Scot rescuers driving us to a restaurant in their Range Rover!!

Wood Sorrel – prevents scurvy in hippy hitch hikers.
Stars of Earth at Stockgrove

Roadkill Muntjac, Food of Kings

On the way to my friend’s farm project near Reading I caught sight of a Muntjac deer that had died being hit by a car.

“What luck.” I thought as I had been wondering what to bring as a present (apart from a good bottle of red) and I already knew not to bring vegetables as they are up to their gills in the stuff. So I braked to a halt and hauled the surprisingly heavy carcass along the road and into my boot. The unfortunate beast had a shiny eye and didn’t smell, so all looked edible.

I had never prepared such a large animal before ( though have worked my way through wood pigeon, squirrel, pheasant and rabbit) and was glad of the help of a friend at the farm!

We hung the muntjac up by the front legs, although we debated about it being head down like I’d seen in some book or other…I used my green wood carving knife to cut a slit from the anus to halfway up the belly, being careful not to cut into the stomach which was starting to bloat (with pungent gas from rotting deer munch). Then we used scissors and the knife to slide under the skin to get the skin off. It was hard going even with a reasonably sharp knife, the deer’s coat was tough. We cut around each hindleg and peeled the skin down.

At this point my friend Andy had to use an axe to cut off the hooves so we could get the skin off, then he twisted off the hind legs and we had two big joints of meat already.

Obviously not expert butchery,but we got it done!

In an ideal world we’d have cut bang straight up the belly and taken off all the skin, but I went off to the side, so instead we made a cut in the neck and took pieces off the shoulder. We peeled the skin down (you have to get your hand right in there, and the aroma of butchery is powerful) and got to either side of the deer’s spine, where the tender and tasty Backstrap cut is found. This meat is in the strips either side of the spine, and is tender enough to fry like steak.

About to carve out the Backstrap (avec scissors)

As you can see, my other mistake was to puncture a hole in the abdomen and the deer’s guts fell out, leaking expired deer poo 💩 all over our hands. After a brief break to wash it all off, we finally skinned and took off the two front legs. We bagged it all up and found we had over 5.5kg of venison to hand out to friends and cook 2 big meals for the carnivorous people of the farm!

Andy made a delicious fried-sauteed thingy from the backstrap cut, we had it with homemade rosemary flatbread and greens soup. Totally delicious 😄 and worth all the hard work.

Cooking the backstrap cuts

So next time you see roadkill, remember that’s several weeks worth of high quality meat for one family, and far better for you than a McDonald’s….why not give it a try (providing it’s safe to stop, of course)….

Roadkill Muntjac, Food of Kings

A Coastal Cornucopia

Don’t miss an opportunity to taste these seaside wild plants below if you are on holiday!

I found lots of SEA BUCKTHORN bushes (Hippophae rhamnoides) when I hopped behind the sand dunes on Sand Bay dog beach in Weston-super -Mare. Myself and my 6 year old son lost no time cramming the wickedly tangy, sherberty orange berries into our mouths; my mum, however, pronounced them ‘not flavoursome enough!’. My advice is to watch out for the vicious thorns however. Sea buckthorn contains Vitamin C, A,B1, B2, B6, and Omega 7. The berry oil is used in herbal medicines to boost immunity, obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol, but there’s not much scientific evidence for any of this. Try juicing it into a smoothie with other blander fruits such as melon, or pureeing it as a sauce with game. Or freeze into an ice lolly for kids to pick at!

Sea buckthorn berries on plant. Delicious!

I first came across SEA KALE (Crambe maritima) on the shingle beach at Littlehampton, West Sussex. I worked out it was part of the cabbage (Brassica) family quite easily – the rubbery, turquoise cabbagy leaves and four petalled white flowers are a giveaway. The texture is what makes it delicious – crunchy and slightly salty and bitter. The young shoots are purple and together with the flower buds are the tenderness and tastiest part. Saute them as you would asparagus, or stir fry withsoy sauce…just don’t cook for too long, nobody likes sloppy cabbage!

Young Sea Kale

If your trip takes you near estuary mud or marshland,look out for the unmistakable transparent emerald minature cactus lookalike that is GLASSWORT/SEA SAMPHIRE (Salicornia europaea). I have found it in Cornwall and in Norfolk,where it is harvested commercially. The succulent, salty, crunchy stems are found in posh restaurants (and in Waitrose!) when it is the right season. It goes best partnered with fish. The price for just a handful is enough to make you weep. I do like the texture,but am baffled as to why there is such a racket as mostly all I could taste was salt. This is another reason to cook this plant with plenty of water and no extra salt! Add a drop of butter or olive oil once cooked.

Glasswort..if you like it salty…

I discovered ROCK SAMPHIRE (Crithmum maritimum) on the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis. This proud member of the Carrot (Apiceae) family has the umbrella-like blooms and finely divided leaves, though as it is a coastal plant the leaf fronds have narrowed into turquoise needles. It tastes of a powerful mix of toothpaste, (aniseed and fennel) and carrot. This taste and scent comes from the powerful oils it contains. Sailors used to eat this plant to prevent scurvy and it used to be more popular than the now trendy sea samphire (not related!) however it’s an acquired taste for some people. Best lacto fermented or pickled, or steamed and stir fried.

Rock samphire..it takes no prisoners with its flavour!

So next time you head to the beach, grab a bag or basket and get close and personal with nature’s larder. Just remember to only take what you need, when there is enough.

A Coastal Cornucopia

Gypsy elixir… Nettle seed

Even the country folk of us, who enjoy a nettle tea or soup, often don’t realise that common Nettle (Urtica dioica/urens) SEEDS are a nutritious and tasty meal. Ths female seeds are chock full of essential fatty acids, protein, Vitamin C and energy rich oil. You can taste this when you eat them, it is similar to hemp oil in taste (and a whole lot cheaper!)

Gypsy horse dealers used to feed their ageing charges nettle seed before sale. The horse would frisk about with a shiny coat and bright eyes, to all appearances a much younger steed. The ruse was only discovered once the new owner stopped feeding the horse nettle seed. (So, naturally, I have been chugging the stuff down each day!)

The trick is to pick the female seeds, not the male parts! The female seeds stand proud of the stem, and are spherical. They start off green then go golden through to brown. You want to get them while golden if you want to store them – once they go brown they tend to fall off into the undergrowth. The male ‘bits’ drop close to the stem and are flat discs of green.

There are all sorts of delicious recipes you can make with nettle seed. Add to a salad, stir fry, any way you would use hemp seed. Put in breakfast yoghurt or a smoothie. I make Nettle Seed Electuary, which is dried seed crushed with a pestle and mortar then mixed with honey. It keeps for years and is great taken daily as a tonic for hair, skin, adrenal (kidneys and liver) and thyroid system. It is also an aphrodisiac!

You can also mix the seeds with nettle leaves, spices and ground oatmeal to make Nettle seed Falafels. These below were made on one of my full day Wildfood cookery classes at Howe Park Wood. With tangy Hawthorn Berry sauce and yoghurt!

It is the same way for vegan burgers, just make sure to use something that binds the burger or falafel together .Enjoy!

Gypsy elixir… Nettle seed

Mycelial Meanderings with Phil McAustin

With a flourish of Phil’s pocket magnifying lens, a suckered tentacle stares back at me, an iridescent grey white. It looks like it should be coiling around a shipwreck, not oozing out of a fallen beech near National Trust Ashridge Monument.

I’m here with Phil McAustin, mycologist and wood specialist, on a thankfully sunny Wednesday in October after a heavy rain at the weekend.

” Environment, substrate, solitary, clump or trooping, colouring, height, cap size and shape, gill spacing and attachment, spore print…” begins Phil. There is a lot to remember! With mushrooms, the devil really is in the detail.

Phil shows me how to cut fungi in half lengthwise to ascertain whether the gills are adnate (free of the stalk) or decurrent (attached or running down the stalk). Below is a Common Earthball, showing the spores black inside. This is the one that explodes when ripe, and it is not edible! Apologies to Phil, who told me to use the Latin which I have now forgotten.

We found a few tasty Common Puffball too…they have a granulated surface of pleasant off white and a delicious meaty smell, and are white inside. As opposed to Earthballs with their cracked leather look, brown specks and black interior.

Below is an edible Amanita, hailing from that terrifying family including Death cap and Destroying Angel, which I was too scared to try. Amanitas are easily recognizable from the Volva (egg-like sac) that they grow out of. Dig into the soil near the base to check.

Honey fungus pokes out of a tree fairly high up the trunk. The tree is already dead, whether from this onslaught or another cause. The graceful sculptural form of this amber fungus can also be found in the dried mushroom selection at Waitrose! This is despite some cautions as to individual reactions to eating Honey fungus.

Not chicken or hen of the woods, frustratingly! Beautiful bracket fungus though.

Porcelain fungus has a shiny wet cap and you can see the light through the edges of the cap. Not edible, but pretty! Note the widely spaced gills.

We do find, however, some Beefsteak fungus, and some Amethyst Decievers. The beefsteak fungus drips a red fluid when cut and looks uncannily like a fresh kidney. It is edible but has an acrid aftertaste unless you boil it in some milk, which I didn’t do!

Amethyst Decievers are a stunning subtle purple colour, with a suede like feel and in rolled cap. They are small, but we got enough to make a bowl of Amethyst Miso Noodles. Phil shows me how to tell by the bank of earth that we are heading into ancient woodland, where we find many more mushrooms.

There are many more Phil showed me (and all the Latin names) but these are the most memorable. So get out there and get identifying…Il put more up as I meet them! Many thanks to Phil for his time and knowledge.

Mycelial Meanderings with Phil McAustin

Squirrel Stew

Today myself and my young son found a freshly dead squirrel that had been shot in Linslade Woods. The eyes were still bright and clear, it was still flexible, and it didn’t smell. I chose to risk it and brought it home, where after some You Tube instruction I skinned it by cutting under the tail and pulling the skin off in one piece.

It did make me shudder, and my son too, but wasn’t as hard as I thought. (The rabbit I got that was killed by a greyhound freaked me out far more.)

Then I cut from the neck down to the vent to get the entrails out…yeuch!

Back at the boat I cut the squirrel into chunks – 4 legs and 2 body parts, seasoned with paprika and braised it with some onions and garlic. Threw in some nettles and Deadnettles (with white orchid-like flowers) that were growing just across the towpath. Wild meat, and guilt free too! Utterly thrilling!

After about 20 mins it was ready, and I added gnocchi, a pinch of gravy granules and pepper. The guy on the video used a slow cooker, but he didn’t have a 5 year old lad yelling for his supper a foot away.

Here’s the results…

The verdict on the taste of our cute native tree rat? Well, a bit like chicken. And you really have to pick over those tiny legs to get anything off it. Wood pigeon is still my favourite.

I wonder how to cure the skin…prob enough there to make a coin purse for Marty. Stay tuned for more autumnal quests into Bushcraft as we self isolate yet again!!

Squirrel Stew

Wayfarer herbs for June

20200609_113159

 

Almost thought I had to go to the supermarket to get veg today, until I nabbed these beauties on the way back from the lake swim.  Not that the kid will eat them..I will still have to go to Tesco to get cucumber (sigh)….

Clockwise :

Tansy (for bug repellent, hanging it up in the boat)

Hop shoots ( to saute as side veg)

Horsetail (tonic tea for the kidneys and urinary tract, hair and nails)

Fat Hen for a tender, tasty soup and curry

Not bad for a ten minute stroll down the towpath.  Stuffed my face with nettle seed too.

Xx

Hedgewitch Kat

 

Wayfarer herbs for June

Update on Cleavers And Carrot Ferment

Tasted great after 6 days, tangy and delicious in a turmeric  and prawn root soup with soya yoghurt…

20200209_170814

Only surprise was the sadly deceased ladybird I found once I was halfway through the jar.

20200209_164013

And the hair!!  Sorry!

Apparently fermented guillemot birds were buried under mud and considered a wedding feast delicacy in Iceland however, so I’m sure one ladybird won’t kill me.

Update on Cleavers And Carrot Ferment

Spring Tonics in the Ouzel Valley

Today I harvested handfuls of fresh juicy Cleavers, bursting with vitamins welcome after winter’s salted runner beans.

 

I decided on making Cleavers & Carrot Lacto-Ferment, the cleavers worked well last year with a phenomenal taste…I will return with the results.

Cow Parsley (Anthriscus Sylvestris) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are also out side by side, confuse them not lest you desire a free ride in an ambulance.

Tasty potato salad addition, left.

Death, right.

A bit scary.

20200205_113026

Cow parsley has a faint pink blush on stem, stem finely downy hairs, leaves 2 to 3 times innate (divided).

Hemlock has PINK/PURPLE SPOTS at base of stem, smooth hairless stem, leaves 4-5 times divided, generally bigger and looks finely lacy.  This is hemlock.

20200205_112454

If you’re not 100% on it, avoid.

 

Also found Winter Cress and Shepherd’s Purse where the River path comes up to Aldi. (Now that what I call a budget shopping experience!) Peppery members of the cabbage family. Though probably peed on by many dogs.

Shepherds Purse has one of the highest nutritional contents of any wild food in the UK.

See you soon with more as I find it!

Xx

Hedgewitch Kat

Spring Tonics in the Ouzel Valley