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

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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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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

In blackest night….

Winter’s bite….

In blackest night

grows the seed of Life

Blue frost in our pleading veins

we sink deep…

Beneath snows, and wish for light to come again;

but needful is this rest, this still;

like death to life is needful

the black earth womb to the seed of light.

Winter’s bite;

Reality, sometimes grim

Is soul medicine in bitter pill

And needful still.

For the growth of the seed so strong in life

From blackest despairing night.

 

 

In blackest night….

Winter Nature Collage

Stuck for nature-based things to do in miserable grey January?  Get out on a dry day with some secateurs and a bag and harvest some dried stems, fallen bark, seedheads…then back at base have a play glueing them to a piece of hardboard or canvas to create textural worlds of winter sensuality….try contrasting opposites such as hard bark or stems with soft feathery seedheads…

Here I used strong pliers to clip off the pine scales as near the base as possible, and shake out the seeds which can be eaten! or used as another part of the collage, with their beautiful pearlescent wings.  I started using evil smelling chemical glue, then felt bad about the environment so switched to PVA which works just as well!  this is just hardboard from a DIY store which I prepared with acrylic paint.

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Try cutting stems to produce delicate, structural cross sections such as this Reedmace stem, with its natural foam for buoyancy, or stem pieces built up into a honeycomb of different lengths and textures.  I haven’t finished a lot of these so will put  more pics up when they are done!

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Last but  not least, weave in some basketry techniques to create some geometrical effects.  The world is your oyster!  I’m going to try using dried bracket fungus next.  And yes, do make sure everything is bone dry before using or you may get a moving, evolving picture of mycology and mildew…which is fascinating but messy and smelly.

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i used miscanthus heads in this for the fluff!

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Winter Nature Collage

Pine Needle Basket – pics!

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A finished (nearly!) pine needle basket made using short (4-5in) pine needles from several different species of trees..fiddly but fun, and very satisfying, and all you have had to pay for is a washer and some string!  I have dyed some of the needles with turmeric (the yellow ones) and used reddish needles and ivory cream needles to produce bands of colour.

Stay tuned for my Pine Needle Basketry workshop coming soon in Milton Keynes!  I will also be selling Pine Needle Basketry kits on my etsy.com page (‘Hedgewitch Adventures’ on Etsy).

Pine Needle Basket – pics!