|Stirling King's Park in Winter - not the obvious place|
to start looking for a square meal perhaps?
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that wild food is an important part of my ongoing interest in the nature of Scotland (and elsewhere). The adventurous O and I have, for several years, explored the opportunities for picking, harvesting, cooking (where appropriate) and eating wild food (mostly fruit, nuts, roots, leaves, seaweed and fungi), both locally and on our travels around Scotland. During 2009, we successfully completed a wee project, to try to find wild food to eat from our local park (the King’s Park in Stirling) in each month of 2009. That was before I began this blog so we have decided to repeat our efforts during 2011. All that is required to satisfy our project’s objectives is that, each month, we include in a meal food or drink collected or made from ingredients collected from our local park. The meal can include anything else that’s necessary and doesn’t have to be exclusively based on wild food from the park (we’re not fanatics!).
We might also include wild food collected and preserved in earlier months but that can’t count towards that month’s contribution (otherwise, we could just drink homemade elderflower cordial every month). We reserve the right to eat the same thing in more than one month (season’s rarely last a single month!) but we will aim to use it in a different way each time. The park has woodland, grassland, walls, trees, shrubs, etc so there are lots of opportunities to find wild food. When we tried this project in 2009, the winter months were always likely to be the most challenging but, as you’ll see below, an unusual wild food that we learned to eat recently has helped us start the 2011 attempt with something a little special.
One caveat – please don’t take my posts as evidence that something you’ve found is edible and safe to eat. We have spent a long time learning how to identify edible and poisonous plants, fungi etc. We absolutely don’t eat any wild collected food of which we aren’t absolutely sure of the identity and you shouldn’t either. Please take advice, go on courses and guided wild food walks, consult with specialists (especially for mushrooms and other fungi) but DON’T eat anything you can’t identify as safe (and don’t try to identify things to eat based on my blog).
So, to January and wild food from the park. If you’ve been reading my posts for a wee while, you might remember that I mentioned back in the summer (July) that we had found some Jew’s Ear fungus colonies growing on dead elder branches in a quiet corner of the park. You can read about that here, where you’ll see I wrote that, no doubt, we’d be eating them soon enough. The Jew’s Ear fungus or jelly ear fungus (Latin name: Auricularia auricula-juda ) does indeed look like a gelatinous ear and is dependent on a certain part of the life cycle of the elder tree (Latin name: Sambucus nigra), growing on dead and decaying elder branches. And we’ve found that there is much more of that in the park than we had initially realised:
Furthermore, as a source of wild food in winter, Jew’s ear fungus is something of a star. Not only does it produce fruiting bodies (i.e. the visible fungus) in winter when most fungi do not do so but, in our park, it continued to grow and produce new “ears” right through the very coldest weather this winter, when the temperature was well below zero for weeks on end and everything in the park was frozen solid. Even then, the fungus survives being frozen solid, can be harvested frozen, and can then be kept in the fridge for days without breaking down. A kind of wonder food it seems, as it can even be dried, then reconstituted by soaking in water. One of our fungi gurus, Dick Peebles of Fresh Direct Foods advises me that a related species is, in fact, sold in dried form in the Far East then reconstituted for cooking with. So, we picked quite a large bag of Jew’s Ear Fungus in early January.
We decided to have a go at making Jew’s Ear Fungus ravioli and so O made a pasta dough with Scottish-milled strong white bread flour and rolled it out through her pasta gadget.
The ravioli filling was made by lightly frying finely chopped Jew’s Ear fungus, shallots, parsley, garlic and chopped smoked Argyll mussels (from our local Farmer’s Market), along with some leftover boiled blue potatoes to give the filling some bulk:
After seasoning, the ravioli were assembled:
|Ravioli production line|
then boiled gently for a few minutes
before serving with drizzled olive oil, a grating of Parmesan, ground black pepper and finely chopped parsley. A wildly tasty and satisfactory start to our 2011 “Wild food in the Park” experiment!