Category Archives: Fungi

Go ahead,Punk!

Thought I’d do a blog about different materials used for fire lighting. It breaks down pretty simply – for fire, you need three things: Fuel, Heat and Oxygen. Heat is created by striking a spark (called ‘percussion’) or the ‘rubbing sticks together’ method (called ‘friction’) if you’re adventurous – more on that in a future post!, oxygen comes from the wind or from you (blowing the fire or fanning it, cowboy-style!). The tricky bit is preparing your fuel – collecting and sorting your material, using the right fuel for the right stages of the fire, not rushing it, and understanding what the fire needs more of. Here’s a quick video of me lighting a fire with a fire steel, using thistle tops and pine needles, followed by tiny twigs:

Lighting a fire with thistle tops and pine needles #tw #bushcraft #ForestSchool

A post shared by Morgan Hughes (@thereremouse) on

The thistle tops and pine needles are what’s called ‘tinder‘. Basically they catch the spark and feed it quickly. Tinder is usually dry and often fluffy. Good examples are dry grass, the tops of reed mace (aka Bullrushes or cat-tails), sawdust (you can buy special tinder!). ]


I use the fluffy stuff to catch the spark and the pine needles to keep it going before I add the twigs, called ‘kindling’.


After you have the kindling going – the key is to not add too much too soon or you’ll kill your fire! – you need to add fuel wood – slightly larger sticks.

There are a few materials which are particularly cool and useful – one of my favourites is King Alfred’s Cakes, a fungus often found on ash trees that will catch and hold an ember and act as tinder. You can see this in the video below where I hold a glowing ember and blow the fire until it passes into the cake!

Passing an ember to a King Alfred ' s Cake #tw #bushcraft #ForestSchool

A post shared by Morgan Hughes (@thereremouse) on

Another of my favourite materials is Punk Wood (wood from the heart of a rotting log that has lost its rigidity and taken on a spongy texture. Once dry, it makes excellent kindling! – Take a look below!

Punk wood is spongy even when dry. #tw #bushcraft #ForestSchool

A post shared by Morgan Hughes (@thereremouse) on

The key thing is, of course, safety – for you and for the environment around you. Make sure that you have landowner’s permission for practicing your fire lighting skills, and ensure the area is clear and safe, and that you have water nearby in case chaos happens! Knowing how to light and manage fire can really add to your enjoyment of the wilderness, and I promise you’ll never get tired of trying out new materials!

The Small of the Wild (Part 1)

I had a microscopic adventure this week: a foray into the world of Ascomycetes fungi. Ascos (That’s what the cool kids call them – and I’m down with the kids, as you know!) are a type of small fungi that live on dead wood (or sometimes other fungi) and proliferate by expelling spores into the air (they are known as the ‘Spore Shooters’).

To study them, you really need a hand lens (although there are some large ascos like Scarlet Elf Cup and Witches Butter which are large – Elf Cups will feature in another blog post very soon!).  Delighted that I remembered to pack my hand lens and my camera with macro lens, I managed a few cool pics.  (Not all of these are Ascos, as some are fungi from different groups, and at least one is a slime mould (Which is apparently part fungi / part animal!!!).  It was an enthralling experience looking for organisms on a microscopic level – and of course I digressed into looking at beetles, slugs, snails, etc (below) I had my eyes opened to a completeley new taxonomic group!

Meals on Wheels III: Spring Greens


Its been a while since we did a Meals on Wheels event, what with not knowing if we were going to have jobs or not.  But as soon as we found out that we had dodged the redundancy bullet, Nige & I planned two more of our foraging bike rides around Walsall’s countryside.  We took in Hayhead Wood and Park Lime Pits this time, returning with our loot to Top Hangar at the Airport for a campfire / lunch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a fantastic day – nice and cool, but dry – just perfect for a bike ride, so 9 of us set off on an expedition to take in the best that Spring has to offer from nature’s larder.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not edible, but great for us as we knew we needed to light a fire later, we gathered some King Alfred’s Cakes off a fallen ash tree.  This is one of the bushcrafter’s favourite finds, as they enable you to light fires more easily, and can hold an ember from a fire too.


We found a young Chicken of the Woods, and took just enough so that everyone could have a taste (its far better to leave it at this time of year and increase your bounty later on when it has grown more – I once had 3 kilos from one fungus!).

We gathered Wild Garlic, Garlic Mustard and more, tasting the flowers of Ribwort Plantain (mushroomy!), the young, bright leaves of hawthorn and the tart delight of Wood Sorrell (sour apple, anyone?).  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finding some Water Mint growing under the boardwalk in Hay Head Pasture, we gathered some to take back to make mint tea as we sat around the campfire back at the Airport.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lunch was made up of cheesy garlic bread (made with wild garlic pesto), toasted over the fire, followed by Dandelion fritters and sauteed Chicken of the Woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everyone left with a bit more foraging knowledge, and left Nige & I chatting in the fire circle about how we can expand on the event, put on more foraging activities (both walks and bike rides) and perhaps even facilitate the formation of a Walsall Foraging Club, so watch this space.  In the mean time, there’s still plenty of time to get outside and forage for Wild Garlic – you can wilt & use the leaves like spinach, put the punchy little flowers in salad, or make pesto and try your own cheesy garlic bread!  And if the above looks like your kind of thing, you can book for the next Meals on Wheels event through the booking office.  If you’d be interested in membership of a foraging club, drop me an email and I’ll add your details to the list, or use the form below:

Foraging Special: Drying Wild Mushrooms


I wanted to make sure I tried foraging for something new each month in 2013, and I do still have a few days in February to sample the delights of what can easily be considered the forager’s most meager month of the year, and we are still a few weeks away from the wild garlic and wood sorrel salads I’ve got planned for spring.  You might remember my blog post in January about Velvet Shank mushrooms – there were so many left hanging around today that I thought I’d talk a bit more about them – and how you can preserve this species (or any wild mushroom) by drying it!


In the photo at the top you can see on the left some dried Velvet Shank mushrooms.  These have been prepared in the simplest way possible – they were simply harvested after they had already dried on the log!  The mushrooms on the right are fresh mushrooms, and I’ll be drying these out in order to have a stash of dried mushrooms to add to stews, soups and Chinese food (as these are similar to the type of mushrooms you get in Chinese restaurants).  But as dry as the mushrooms on the left are – the important key aim in preserving by drying is to remove ALL the moisture, and so these too must undergo the drying process.


Drying out mushrooms really is a piece of cake, and you can do it in a couple of hours your oven if it has a setting as low as 65 degrees c (mine doesn’t) but simply put, they just need to be in a warm place (warm airing cupboard or in my case, the same place I prove my bread dough: on top of my hubby’s piranha tank!), in contact with an absorbent material (newspaper, kitchen roll) and with some descent air circulation above and below.  So my setup is to use a bakers’ cooling rack with kitchen roll, on top of the fish tank.  I’ll be separating out these mushrooms now that I’ve taken photos, as the more surface area you can get in contact with the air, the more quickly and evenly they will dry.  The drying process will take at least 8 hours – and once dry, you can place the mushrooms in an air tight container and use them as you would any dehydrated packet mushrooms!


And as we’re gearing up (excuse the pun) for foraging season, Meals on Wheels is back!  Do you fancy joining us for the return of our foraging bike ride through Walsall’s countryside? We’ve got events in April and July where you’ll learn how to identify and prepare wild seasonal foods, to get you started in foraging, so if you’ve always wanted to forage but didn’t know where to start, this is your chance!  Places are VERY limited, and only £4 – payable on booking via the Walsall Box Office on 0845 111 2900.

Slime Scene Investigation…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA girl walks into a star… Just kidding.  You’ll think its funny in a minute.  Those slimy white lumps of jelly in the photo above have created a bit of a buzz in Countryside HQ this morning.  I’ve never seen anything like it before, but had a vague recollection that I’d read something about them.  Two minutes of googling and I was there – Star Jelly.  (Get it now? Girl walks into a…).

So star jellies are a bit of a paranormal/cryptozoology phenomenon (or not!) as there is a lot of folklore and mystery around several types of clear-to-white jelly that are occasionally encountered by people.  Theories abound:  Meteoric debris (ergo ‘star’ jelly), the sperm of rutting Red Deer (I really hope not – I touched it!), slime mould, Nostoc (a type of blue green algae – cyanobacteria), slimy fungi, and even (my personal favourite) the undigested (and vomited) remains of amphibians that have been eaten by birds.  What do you think?


It seems that the general consensus leans towards the froggy-bird-vomit theory, but I’m not really buying it.  A bit more sensible searching through google images, and I think I have the culprit:  Crystal Brain Fungus!!!  (Yes, the truth can be almost stranger than fiction!)  Not as one would think, a crab-core girl band, but an actual type of actual fungus!

Exidia nucleata is one of the types of Crystal Brain Fungus that is frequently encountered in winter, on wet, decaying wood (I found this today in a drenched Merrions Wood, on a dead, fallen tree, so it fits the profile!).  Perhaps not as exciting as creatures from space deposited during a meteor shower, its still pretty cool.  And its not the only strange blob of jelly I’ve had to have identified in Walsall!


In 2011 we encountered some very strange things whilst doing a borough-wide amphibian survey – that soon came to be known as ‘Green Jelly Blobs’.  The GJBs, which curiously almost melted in the hand, were eventually identified as Nostoc (cyanobacteria).  We only found them at one site, Oily Goughs in Rough Wood Chase, but they remain one of my favourite ‘finds’ of 2011.

I have had the photos of today’s white jelly blobs identified as being Crystal Brain Fungi, but am sending away a sample for confirmation, and will report back on results!


Shanks and Bigfoot: A Foraging Special


Thought I’d brighten up your January with a foraging special!  The fungi (above) is a cluster of Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) mushrooms [Thanks to Fenwickfield on iSpot for the ID] growing out of a felled tree.

Also called the ‘Velvet Foot’, ‘Winter Agaric’ or ‘Winter Mushroom’ (and even sold as Enoki sometimes!), it is one of the most common winter mushrooms, able to withstand frosts.  It is also rumoured to be anti-carcinogenic!  At this time of year, it is difficult to confuse with other species.  *Ahem – I should probably state here that you should NOT eat ANY wild mushrooms EVER.  Do as I say, not as I do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo a quick chat with my foraging buddy Sally (whom you met in the pignut / chicken of the woods episode) and we made plans to harvest the crop.


We met this morning on site, and immediately set to harvesting (and checking the ID!) the mushrooms, making sure we left enough small mushrooms to come back for a second crop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVelvet Shanks are identified by their orangey brown colouring (paler towards the edges), sticky texture, and velvety stalk (shank) which darkens toward the base.  A cross-section of the stalk reveals different coloured layers with a small hole in the centre.


Picking these mushrooms, especially when frozen, is a job for a sharp knife and a lot of patience, as they are quite fragile, too!  I actually left mine outside in the cold all day until I could bring them home and cook them straight away.


My original plan was Risotto, but alas, I drank all the white wine last night, and risotto isn’t the same without it, so decided (after consulting the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook) on a bit of a ‘wild’ bangers and mash as I had some venison sausages in the fridge.


So I began by putting some spuds and turnips on to boil for the mash, and washing (gently) my mushrooms.


I threw two cloves of garlic and 6 shallots in my mini blender while the sausages were cooking.  Took the sausages off the heat, and sauteed the shallots, garlic & mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.


After 5-10 mins, I added the sausages back into the pan and mashed my spuds while it all came together.  Then served up, deglazed the pan with some beef stock and reduced it to make a jus, and voila!  Posh & Wild Bangers & Mash!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, the review:  Delicious, mild and earthy tasting with no bitterness, BUT they do retain their slimyness so that when they are in your mouth the texture is very much like mushrooms from the chinese takeaway, but with WAY more flavour.  Just a bit of a head’s up that the texture won’t be to everyone’s liking.  (We are so used to white, firm mushrooms that it may be a bit weird for some.)  I have read recommendations to dry this mushroom and use it in stews, etc, so I’ll give that a go on my next harvest and let you know how it goes!  🙂

App Review: The Forager’s Apprentice

I was pottering around on my iPhone, looking for foraging apps.  Frankly, there’s not much out there in the way of FREE apps, and I was unsure which to go for, and it occurred to me that you might feel the same way.

So, your friendly neighbourhood digital ranger is on the case, and after much googling on my lunch break, I decided to buy and review ‘The Forager’s Apprentice’ (£1.99 – although did have the introductory price of £.69 until 4 days ago – guess I missed the boat on that one!).

The app was created by David Beazley, a chef lecturer at the Plymouth College, who has been foraging since 1978.  He created the app as a companion to his self-published book.

So without further ado, lets plunge into some foraging, digital style…

First Impressions…

Firstly, the overall look is quite organic, clean and bright – everything you’d want a food app to look like.  The tabs at the bottom are ‘Location’, ‘Identify’, ‘Recipes’, ‘My Hotspots’ and ‘Information.  A click on ‘Location’ takes you to the image above – where you can select from ‘Beach’, ‘Hedgerow’ and ‘Woodland’.  So for the purposes of this review we’ll go for ‘Hedgerow’.

A tap on the ‘Hedgerow’ image takes you to an introduction page with a bit of blurb about hedgerow foraging, but the main goodies are in the ‘Food Index’ tab, which takes you to a page of eight different hedgerow food.

I click on ‘Elderflower’ and that takes me to a page for that item, with three tabs:  Summary, Seasons and Recipes.  From there it basically does what it says on the tin, only there’s more:  A click on the photo of Elderflowers at the top takes you to a three minute high quality video of David telling a fellow forager about the plant – recognition, description, uses, harvesting, followed by a screen of written tips.  The recipes tab gives you ‘Elderflower Sorbet’ and ‘Elderflower Syrup’.

Back on the opening page, I click on ‘Identify’.  You can here select to identify by Fruit, Leaves, Mushrooms, Seafood.  I open ‘leaves’ and scroll down to select ‘Wild Garlic’.  The page contains a summary, identification, harvesting technique, level of identification, safety tips, and then finishes of ith a ‘Pro’ tip: “Delicious shredded and added to a stir fry at the end of cooking.”  Add one link to the wiki page on Ramsons, and I’d call that a fairly concise, clear introduction to wild garlic.  Again, this page includes Seasons and Recipes.

Basically, the Locations and Identify pages are two ways of ending up at the same species description pages, the first by Habitat, and the second by Foliage / Images.  The Recipes tab leads you to a generous amount of recipe ideas, from Praline Truffles with foraged Hazlenut, to Chanterelle Muffins and, of course, Sloe Gin.

Without a doubt, my favourite feature of the app is the ‘Hotspots’ feature, which basically allows you to use gps to map anything you find (very useful if, like me, you find something you want to come back to harvest later and can’t quite remember where it is!) – these locations aren’t shared, so no one’s going to pilfer your poppy seeds, but its just a fab reminder of what you’ve seen and where, and makes the £1.99 for the app worth it just on its own.  And the videos equate to a nice evening of watching the clips for pointers and ideas you hadn’t considered, so I’ll be keeping this one on my phone for sure!

Overall Opinion…

I think that this is a fantastic app for a beginner.  The interface is very intuitive, and its easy to navigate around.  Experienced foragers may not find the ID tips, etc all that useful, and the overall number of species listed is not that great, although I have no doubt that there will be additions and updates in the future.  However, even if you’re a seasoned forager, you’ll find the ‘hotspots’ tool really useful.  I’m certainly going to look into picking up David’s book, based on the app, which is saying something!

But what’s out there for iPhone that’s free, or alternatives to The Forager’s Apprentice?  Here’s a quick round-up of what else there is to choose from:

Wild Jam Maker – a FREE app with some wild jam recipes, including unusual stuff like Medlar.  Pretty neat little app.

Wild Food Yearbook – £4.99 – exactly that, a book, so lots of text and probably much more information, but not a quick-access app.  To be honest, if I want to read a book about foraging, I would probably not buy it as an app.

Forage: Free Food from the Wild – £1.49 – another UK based app, which appears to be very similar to the Forager’s Apprentice – this also has the option to buy more species.  And also Wild Food Forager – £.69 – a similar, if less comprehensive version of the above, and doesn’t appear to be as pretty or user friendly.  I will, however, play about with both of these for a few days and do another review over the weekend, so watch this space!

Wild Edibles – £5.49 – a FANTASTIC foraging app, and I really mean it – includes Confusing Factors, Similar Plants, cautions, and even Medicinal Uses – I’d highly recommend downloading the trial version – Wild Edibles Light – just to have a gander, but the overwhelming drawback is that  (though I consider a plant list 150 species strong VERY worth a fiver), it is regrettably North American species – so it includes a few of ours (Garlic Mustard for example), but much of the full app would not be any use, and that is the only reason I’m not flying the flag for this one!  Also a crushing blow is that the same people bring you the Foraging Flashcards series for £.69 each – Early Spring, spring, Summer, Fall and Fruits.  However, these are also all US-based – we need a UK version!

Meals on Wheels: The First Course!

Puffball mushrooms – the first find of the day!

On the 18th of June this year, as part of National Bike Week, my fellow ranger Nige Curnow and I held an event that would merge together two things that we’re both passionate about – cycling and foraging!  Meals on Wheels came about after a conversation about how the best foraging sites for different foods are usually pretty far apart from each other – and wouldn’t it be nice if you could, in Spring for example, forage at one place for wild garlic, another for pignut, and yet another for edible fungi?

And so in a step outside your usual public event, we thought it was a very good excuse to get on our bikes around the countryside, and stop for some ‘Wild Noms’ at lunchtime, and generally pass on our enthusiasm about the great British countryside, and in particular, the fabulous green spaces around Walsall.

I shallow fry some elderflower and dandelion fritters!

We started off the bike ride with a bit of insider knowledge – one of our regular volunteers had spotted a large Chicken of the Woods fungus in Aldridge, so we immediately decided to make a detour to collect some before heading down the canal to Park Lime Pits.

Much to our delight, we stumbled across some puffball mushrooms on the way – not the delicious giant ones, but the small, not quite as tasty but still edible puffballs.  We tested them for edibility – white flesh is fine, yellow is too far gone to eat.

Giddy with our immediate foraging success, we rode down the canal towpath, stopping occasionally to talk about edible plants that we could see:  Ribwort Plantain (recently used by Paul Foster in an episode of the Great British Menu!), nettle, elder, and reedmace.

We wheeled into Park Lime Pits and picked up the three litres of water I’d stashed in a hedge that morning, and proceded to forage about for dandelion heads and sprays of elderflowers.  Then we chose a place to settle down to lunch.

Bikes ‘parked’ next to the bench at Park Lime Pits where we stopped for lunch!

I thought that a nice introduction to what you can make by foraging would be to bring out the big guns – my Bear’s Pesto.  I pulled out a pack of fresh pasta and cooked it over a pocket stove, then coated it with the lovely wild garlic and walnut pesto before sharing it out.

We proceeded to fry up our mushrooms with butter, and share those out too.  Chicken of the Woods is such a strong mushroomy taste – I always think it tastes like a woodland would taste.

Next came my favourite part – Wild Fritters – I’m posting the recipe below.  The light floral taste was just heavenly eaten in the sunshine, and washed down with a cup of wild water mint tea!

Anyway, if this has tickled your fancy, and you’d like to have a go at wild food bike rides, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve got lots more seasonal events planned – the next is coming up in just a couple of weeks, on the 21st of July.  The places are very limited, so book quickly to secure your place, and I’ll look forward to seeing you there!  Here’s the info you need to book:

Click here to go to the Whats On Walsall page for Meals on Wheels!

Elderflower and Dandelion Fritters

Ingredients:  Water, Elderflower Sprays, dandelion heads, and a packet of yorkshire pudding mix.  (It has to be the ‘just add water’ kind, not the kind you need an egg for!)

Method: Simply mix up the batter with water (you can use sparkling water to add a little vigour, or even beer!) until it is smooth, as you heat up an inch of vegetable oil on the stove.  Then carefully immerse the elderflower sprays one at a time (holding them by the green stem – which you don’t eat, it just makes a convenient handle!) into the light batter, and then into the oil.  Cook until it starts to go a golden brown.  Do the same with your dandelion heads – again, you’ll want to eat the flower only really.  Now let your cooked fritters cool and drain on some kitchen roll/napkins before eating.

Alternatives:  My goodness, where to start?  You could make a sweet batter by adding sugar, or even dust your fritters afterwards with icing sugar or cinnamon.  Experiment with frittering veggies at home until you find your favourite batter mix.  Chilli?  Black Pepper?

If you try it, or if you have any recommendations, please post them in the comments & let me know how you get on!

Foraging on the QT

Nige digging for Pignuts

Today I had one of those pinch-yourself mornings (and I have them often) when I realise how priveleged I am that I get to spend my days working for, learning about, and generally spending time in the countryside.  One of the best things about my job is that I get to work with people who share my ideals, interests and enthusiasm, and there are few things that we are more enthusiastic about at Countryside Services, than a bit of good old fashoned bushcraft.

VERY fragile, white roots!

From basketry to wild food foraging, fire lighting to forest schools, if its outdoors, we’re all over it, and its nothing short of wonderful to meet new friends who share our passion for the outdoors.  Nige & I went to a top secret location today to meet entrepreneur, food writer, forager, blogger and owner of fresh food company Haresmoore, Sally Hares.  Our mission?  To find, harvest and taste a wild food that I’d never eaten before:  Pignut.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (or the brown heart-shaped thing at the end of the teeny white strand of plant material going into the ground)

Pignut (Conopodium majus) has been eaten for millennia, and has a plethora of colloquial names (kippernut, hawknut, ground/earth nut, and one I particularly understand: earth chestnut – it looks just like a sweet chestnut!).

But to most people, most of the time, it is called simply ‘Pignut’ due to the fact that it is a particular favourite of wild boar and event domestic pigs.  It has also (quite charmingly) been called St. Anthony’s nut – the patron saint of swineherds!

It does require a good bit of digging!

Its not actually a nut at all, but a tuber that can be eaten raw or cooked, and has a taste described as being similar to celery, hazelnut, water chestnut, brazil nut, potato (both sweet and normal) and chestnut.

I think I’d have to go with a combination of the milky, crunchy texture of brazil nut, with the mealy, flouryness of a sweet chestnut – pretty amazing!  Sally said she thought it tasted like celery!

The finished product!

The harvesting of pignut is a pretty involved procedure, with only a small morsel at the end, so unless you are a person that enjoys ‘the chase’, I’d go for something less labour-intensive.

We did a video today, in which you get to see the big ‘reveal’ – our first Pignut tuber, which we dutifully split into thirds and nibbled on, before deciding we had to have more! You can watch the video here!

The Chicken of the Woods in the frying pan.

As you can see, the procedure involves digging down beneath the plant until you reach the fragile, tendril-like roots, which will suddenly take a sharp 90 degree turn before eventually leading to the sweet tuber.  Break the tendril, and all may be lost, so its a delicate process!  Nige and I managed to find one each, but Sally got her technique down in minutes – she found a clump of pignut and dug down before approaching the tubers from the side!

Sally peels the Pignuts!

(I did say that it was probably because she’d been a wild boar in a former life, and we both agreed she should try truffle-hunting!)

We decided to cook the pignuts with some Chicken of the Woods fungus we’d harvested (stay tuned for a blog about my experiments with this amazing wild food!), so we retired to a glade in the woodland by a fallen tree, and prepared our food.

Pignut can be eaten raw or peeled and cooked.

We sliced up the Chicken of the Woods and Pignut, and cooked it in butter, salt and pepper, then stirred in some cream, followed by a dollop of the Wild Garlic & Walnut Pesto that I made last week.  Sally had brought with her some home made cheese and wild garlic scones, which were the perfect acompaniment to our concoction!  I just wish we had scratch-and-sniff computer screens, because the smell (and taste) was incredible!

The perfect topping to cheese & wild garlic scones!

You can see the video of us making (and eating!) our woodland lunch, and you might get an idea of its deliciousness!  We even ran into Inez, who is a regular walker in the woodland, and invited her to join our ‘pop-up kitchen’.  Every new wild food I try inspires me more and more – it was a great morning!  Huge thanks to Sally & Nige – Can’t wait for Elderflower Cordial & Turkish Delight later this month!

An amazing lunch on the woodland floor!