Shrivelled leaves clinging to tree trunks, looking for all the world like cousins to the chameleons who change the tone and shades of their skin to avoid the beady eyes of predators.
Only these Chilton residents are neither leaves or chameleon cousins.
Once known as ‘Jews’ Ears’, now more appropriately named Jelly Ears, Tree Ears or Wood Ears, these little wonders are most often found in the months of January and February and, if only I had known it at the time of sighting, can be harvested for a tasty treat.
Personally speaking, I can’t say that the prospect of Ears on Toast for my brunch is especially appealing. I’m nowhere near patient enough to do the thin slicing and to stand by, whilst the things boil for three quarters of an hour in milk. Besides which, then Jelly Ears can easily be confused with Pezizas, and as for whether the latter is edible, I’ve got no idea ( a relative of the Pizza?). Perhaps a course on foraging is on the cards!
Further investigation reveals that Jelly Ears are easily distinguishable from Pezizas, as their ear flaps face downwards, rather than opening up for a view of whatever sunlight might be able to make it’s way through the leafy canopy above. Also, the Jelly folk attach themselves to the trunks of Elder trees, whereas Pezizas prefer whatever trees are not Elders (?).
All of this is very well, except that I have no idea how to identify an Elder tree. More research, I feel, is required. According to Jo Woolf, then the Elder tree has deep furrows in its bark. Can’t say that helps in this case. I mean, how deep is deep?
I look up Elder tree bark and come across a website manned by The Woodland Trust. This informs that the bark is ‘grey-brown, corky and furrowed’. I’m thinking that the bark I’ve taken a shot at, does have a resemblance to a wine-bottle cork, so maybe I am on the right track here after all. Now, why didn’t I take a pic of the whole tree?
Perhaps a return visit is called for. Not too difficult, as Chilton’s WWII airfield, is my top-favourite haunt. How long this will remain the case for, I don’t know, with plans for a housing development on the site being imminent.
In a bit to stave off the diggers, I take a look at some of the other fungi on offer.
An array of little pink spots catches my attention and I can’t resist a snap. But, when I do my research, I learn that may be Coral Spot fungi (not at all certain about this identification, so please do correct me); cute little predators who home in on the weak to speed up the process of the host’s death. Nasty, but pretty! Likely inedible, but who, in any case, would waste their time with the harvesting involved to capture even a thimbleful of the beasts?
Little-white domes contrasting beautifully with a pastel green host? Can’t be too sure about the species. I’m taking a guess at Oyster Mushrooms, but edible by ‘choice’ or not, I won’t be risking a taster. Prefer to keep the contents of my stomach (toast and marmalade) down in my personal food processor for as long as is humanly normal. Okay, so my own species may well be under question, and I’m far from normal, but I think you get the gist of my meaning.
Not going to dip into a bowlful of red berries either, even if they are sprinkled up with little green hundreds and thousands.
Hundreds and thousands that, on closer analysis, turn out to be like minute lettuce leaves. Edible? I’m giving them a miss! Google tells me I have stumbled across a colony of lichens; lichens which are made up of fungi, yeast and two types of algae, and cause no discernible harm to their hosts. Glued fast to a collection of fruity pink spindles, they look extraordinarily beautiful – hence, I’m leaving them be!
Love the colours of January (even if the happiness-inducing sunlight’s lacking), but with a home-cooked Veganuary burger awaiting for me back at my cave, I’m sticking to the consumption of ingredients that passed the muster with Tesco’s Food Safety Standards. Okay, so I do believe that various dubious ingredient have made their way into Tesco products in the past (remember the BSE crisis and the horse-meat fiascos?), but I reckon that as a veggie, I have some degree of protection.
As for the foraging, I’m leaving it to the experts!
Copyright of content and photos owned by Jay Cool, The Silly-Savvy Salopian, January 2020