I think the best way to deal with fungi, generally, is quick and simple. This particularly applies to shaggy ink caps. There are two reasons why – correct me if I’m wrong – you’ll never find fresh shaggys on a restaurant/bistro menu. They deliquesce (dissolve to inky black liquid) very quickly after picking and there is a widely held belief that alcohol should be avoided for several days each side of eating. I haven’t checked the alcohol theory myself, but I’ll let you know if I spew after my wine tomorrow evening [I didn’t]. The soup’s already eaten, and delicious it was, too. A delicate, silvery grey liquid with equally delicate flavour.
Shaggys can be found in woodland, on path and roadside verges and are commonly seen, despite their apparent fragility, forcing their way up through roads and pavements The most fruitful patch I ever found was on a bank on the edge of a Tesco car park.
Shaggy Ink Caps
Salt & pepper
First, age and condition. If you come across a growth of shaggys with firm, closed caps as above, pick and get them to the kitchen as quick as you can. Don’t make the mistake I once did and think, “Ooh, I’ll come back for those tomorrow,” as tomorrow they’ll look like the three rear bodies below, which are past their best.
Remove and discard the stems, check for creatures and flick off any earth then chop to desired size. They’ll shrink a little on cooking. Put in a small pan and pour in milk to about ½ or ¾ way up the fungi pieces. Add crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste with half your chopped parsley. Carefully bring to the boil then barely simmer for 5 minutes. Now you have a choice. Some recommend removing the poached fungi and discarding the poaching liquid. I favour serving and eating the lot as soup. Sprinkle with the rest of your parsley.
If you’re lucky, the spot where you picked this crop will yield another in a week or ten days.
Rowanberries 319 grms
Sloes 106 grms
Elderberries 529 grms
Blackberries 903 grms
Crab apples x 4
Above is the needlessly precise list of fruits I picked on Monday morning to make my hedgerow jelly. There are plenty of elderberries and blackberries around, the rowans are just beginning to ripen in places but it looks like a poor year for sloes.
After destalking – the above are all prepared weights – I tipped rowanberries, sloes and chopped whole crab apples into a pan, barely covered with water and simmered for about 15 minutes, crushing the fruit against the side of the pan occasionally with a wooden spoon. Then I poured in the blackberries and elderberries, returned to the boil and reduced to simmer for another 15 to 20 mins, stirring to prevent catching on the bottom, but that’s unlikely.
I poured the lot into a boiled pillowcase suspended over a saucepan, left it to drip overnight then measured the juice. The traditional ratio is one pound of sugar to one of juice, so as the above yielded 1¼ pints I added 20 ounces of sugar as it heated in the pan. Once the sugar had dissolved I boiled the mixture, watching to ensure it didn’t boil over, then checked for set after about 10 minutes. It was ready. The final quantity nicely filled a 1 litre Kilner jar.
I do like blackberry jam, but don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so the tartness of this hedgerow jelly is a welcome change. I’ll definitely be making more.
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Chris Bax, creator of the Taste The Wild site, takes a Blue Peter presenter foraging and produces dandelion and burdock cordial (or beer if you prefer), hawthorn fruit leather and rosehip ‘mice’.
Chris Bax’s Recipes
I took this recipe – and the photo – from the excellent Colour It Green website, lots of useful information on home livestock and crafts as well as an ever growing collection of recipes.
3 litres nettle tips – about half a carrier bag
2 litres water
Pick only the top 4-6 nettle leaves. I didn’t bother stripping leaves from stalks.
Put in a large pan with water and the lemon peel, boil for about 45 minutes.
Strain on to the sugar, add juice of a lemon, stir to dissolve and cover until cool enough to add the yeast. I used a heaped teaspoon of wine yeast with nutrient.
Cover and leave in a warm place for 3 or 4 days.
Put in fizzy drinks bottles, e.g. sparkling water bottles, and leave to stand for a couple of days. Check the bottles daily and if they feel tight carefully unscrew caps to release a little pressure.
Less than a week from picking to drinking and the result is delicious, with a hint of ginger beer flavour. I don’t have a hydrometer but it seemed to be very low in alcohol.
I used the left over nettle pulp to make nettle pesto
As an added bonus I left an emptied bottle, with a little yeast residue in the bottom, on the kitchen worktop and the next morning, in full sun, the yeast had developed a good strong head, so I used it to bake bread. A happy accident.
Friday morning – sowed mixed salad leaves (free seeds from the BBC’s ‘Dig This’ campaign two years ago), basil, oregano, courgette (yes, too early, but worth a go), three varieties of chilli (jalapeno, cayenne and I forget the third) and three of lemon. Potted and trayed up and on the windowsills.
Sunday morning – Eartha Otherworldly (a cat) woke me at 7, trampling and purring over my head so I gave her attention, went down to the kitchen to feed her and make a pot of tea.
Snow! Big, heavy, white flakes of snow! Bugger………
Followed by a delightful sunny day. So I went for a walk, picked a carrier bag full of nettle tops, made a delicious litre or so of soup with half of them and froze the rest. Maybe I’ll use them for an attempt at nettle beer
Definitely want to make nettle pesto