Yes, it’s still winter but there are signs of things to come and a good few things for the forager to look out for at the moment, some for now, some for the future.
I’ve seen quite a few of these fungi this winter. Found on dead Elm, Gorse, Beech and other trees they are happy to freeze, defrost and carry on growing. Built in “anti-freeze” is the cause of this and researchers are studying them in an attempt to make a safe-anti freeze that would be edible to us humans and our pets alike! it is the wild form of the cultivated Enoki or Enokitake sold widely, though looks very different as that is grown in cold, dark, carbon dioxide-rich growing rooms. Do check out the identification in several books / web sites. We like First Nature. They could be confused with Funeral Bell, which as it’s name suggests would not be a good thing. A spore print is helpful, with Velvet Shank having white spores and Funeral Bell’s being brown. Velvet Shank are a good edible mushrooms and should always be cooked before consuming. The stems are quite tough so only the caps are eaten, and the cap’s skin should be removed prior to cooking.
Scarlet Elf Cups
Lovely to see these beautiful fungi appearing over the last few weeks. Previous blog post on them here.
Yes, Gooseberries. Clearly it will be months until they fruit but… the bushes are in leaf now (late January / early February) and as not much is in leaf in the hedgerows at the moment, it makes spotting the bushes a LOT easier than later in the year.
Guests on my Spring Course get expert at spotting this. It looks like grass until you get your eye in but actually the leaves are tubes (like the closely-related Chives). The garlicky smell is a good check that you’ve got the right thing. As expected it has a lovely onion flavour. The leaves can be chopped and added to a salad, used as a garnish or put in a baked potato with mayonnaise. Crow Garlic does have a onion-like bulb but it is rather small and as always, it is illegal to uproot any plant without the landowners consent (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). The season for the leaves is Winter to late Spring. Later in the year, the entire seed head can be gathered and pickled while individual bulbils can be added to salads and bread.
I need not say any more about nettles other than in the right place they are already big enough for picking. Lots of ideas including and going well beyond the forager’s classic soup in this blog post.
In Dorset, I’ve seen this in places since the middle of January, but now in early February it’s big enough to use. Dedicated blog post with id, recipes etc here.