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Thursday, 25 January 2018

Foragers Diary; January 2018

I originally set up the foragers diary as a regular series here on the Bushcraft Education blog before it became a stand alone 'micro blog' which you can access through the link at the top of the page or HERE. The micro blog allowed me to post small regular updates on the foraging I was doing and the wild food I was eating directly from my phone. 

Since setting it up I haven't really done much about wild food on the Bushcraft Education blog but from now on there will be a monthly update here on the wild food that is available at that time of year, these posts will be longer and more detailed than the micro blog posts and will contain tips for finding, identifying and cooking wild food as well. 

I hope you enjoy January's post and maybe you'll even be inspired to do a bit of foraging yourself or expand your current wild food repertoire. 
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January is part of the 'Hungry Gap' the time of the year when little is available for animals or humans to eat, the seeds, fruits and nuts are all gone, the season for most fungi is over and hardly any edible greens are available at all. This is the time of year that demonstrates the importance of meat in the diet of hunter gatherers. Although vegans are entitled to make their decision not to eat meat I guarantee not many of them would stand by their conviction at this time of year if all they had to eat was what they could forage. 

Luckily for meat eaters there is plenty of variety over winter and this 'hungry gap' coincides conveniently with most of the UK's game bird shooting seasons and some of the deer seasons too. In January Chinese water deer, roe does, muntjac, red, sika and fallow deer are all in season as are pheasants, partridge ducks and geese. Even before seasons for game were implemented and non native game species were introduced to the British Isles the lack of fruit, veg and other food during during this hungry gap would have necessitated a reliance on meat and preserved foods. 

Without preserved food from last year though what wild food can you eat in January;

Scarlet elf caps and jelly ear fungi are some of the few edible fungi available in January and are one of those unmistakable wild foods which unlike some other fungi are more or less impossible to mistake for something inedible or poisonous.
 
Scarlet elf caps grown on the floor of damp woodlands, on decaying wood and amongst moss, the bright scarlet colour inside the caps gives them away and their lack of any gills or pores makes them really easy to identify. Jelly ear fungi can be found growing on dead and live wood alike and seem to have a particular preference to elder. I have found the best way to make use of jelly ears is to slice them fairly thinly and add them to stir fries, some specimens can seem to have quite a rubbery texture but they do go well in stir fries. 

Scarlet elf caps are also quite good in stir fries but are delicious on their own as well, I would describe their taste as something between a field mushroom and a very mild radish. Although I have been eating them for quite some time I'm still undecided as to whether the radish taste is real or whether I'm imagining it because they just happen to be a similar colour. 

I quite enjoy filling scarlet elf cups with beetroot chutney and winter cress leaves, cress plants which are part of the brassica family produce basal leaves all year around so if you know what  to look for you can forage some greens in winter.
Cress comes in many shapes and sizes but what you won't see in January are any flowers, hairy bitter cress has small clusters of white flowers to help in it's identification in spring and summer but in January you will be looking for leaves and nothing else. 

Collecting scarlet elf caps and cress leaves. 

You will also occasionally be able to find oyster mushrooms in January and my favourite way to eat those is to use them in a stroganoff. Their firm meaty texture makes them a perfect substitute to the beef that would normally make up the bulk of a stroganoff. 

Oyster mushroom stroganoff. A delicious dish of  oyster mushrooms, peppers, creme freche and flavoured with paprika and mustard. 
While the jelly ear fungi and scarlet elf cups are easy to identify oyster mushrooms as will any gilled fungi require a little more care in their identification. They grow exclusively on decaying wood and in my experience seem to have a preference for dead horse chestnut, willow and poplar although I have seen them on other species. 

To identify them look first for the oyster shaped caps which will generally be of white to quite dark grey, their gills are decurent which means that they are not only present under the cap but that they continue down the length of the stem, if there is a stem present. The stem on oyster fungi is not typical and they will often be twisted, short and curved as a fungi will grow on the side of logs as often as on top, where stems might grow in a normal upright shape. As well as decurent gills where a stem is present there will be no ring around the stem like you might find on a shaggy parasol or horse mushroom and no sack around the base. Additionally although the cap may be quite dark grey the flesh should always be white. 

The fungi that can be found in January are a treat for the wild food enthusiast as is the food that can be hunted but pheasants are much easier to identify than fungi. 

Pheasant, pigeon and vegetables ready for roasting 

A delicious meal and while the pheasant and pigeon can be foraged from the wild other parts of this meal obviously weren't  
Follow the posts on the foragers diary blog for regular updates on the wild food I have been foraging and eating and you can expect another more detailed wild food post here for the month of February.











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