Sheila Spence: winter foraging and Chinese 'ear' soup...

Funghi

If you know where to look, winter is as much of an abundant time of the year for foraging as any other, as blogger, Sheila Spence explains...

Winter is not usually a time of year that comes to mind when you think about foraging for wild foods or hunting wild edible mushrooms, but actually there are some excellent and nutritious plants and fungi to be found.

The ingredient...

If you are lucky you may still find a few cranberries and cowberries or a bush full of sloes but right through the winter you should find the Jew’s Ear fungus. Jew’s Ear, Jelly Ear, Wood Ear or Auricularia auricular-judae to give it the correct Latin name, is a gelatinous ear-shaped fungus which predominantly grows on Elder trees and can be found throughout the year.

The history...

The original name comes from the story that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on an Elder tree after he had betrayed Jesus and so the fungus, which loves to grow on this type of wood and which does look very much like an ear, became known as Judas’s Ear Fungus. Over the course of time this was corrupted to Jew’s Ear. Look for them on bare stems and trunks of Elder trees, they can be picked fresh and pliable or in their dried state.

The recipes...

Here are two recipes, one for using the fungus itself, the other a method of using it dried and ground.

Chinese ‘Ear’ Soup

Ingredients

- 100g Jew’s Ear fungus – fresh or reconstituted
- A thumb-size piece of ginger (chopped into thin slivers)
- 500ml of water
- One tspn vegetable stock (such as Marigold)
- One tbspn Soy Sauce
- Two tbspn rice wine vinegar (or cider vinegar) 
- One tsp of sugar
- Juice of half a lemon

Method

- First, wash the fungi well and slice into thin strips. (If the ears are reconstituted ensure they soak for 20-30 minutes before use.)

- Bring the water to the boil and add the stock powder, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, ginger and finally the Jew’s Ears.

- Simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, until the fungi strips are tender.

- Before serving add the juice from the lemon, give the broth a good stir and serve.

Ear-full of Flavour

This seasoning is useful for adding to mushroom dishes or meat stews and casseroles for that extra rich taste.

What to do

- Collect a batch of fresh Jew’s Ears. These can be collected already drying on the branch to save work later.

- Brush well to ensure that they are all clean before setting to dry. Obviously if they have already been picked in a semi-dried state they will already be well on their way for use. Alternatively, they can be dried successfully by placing them on a rack on a very low temperature in the oven with the door slightly open, or more traditionally, strung up on light string or cotton to dry in a warm dry and airy place, such as over a range cooker or in an airing cupboard.

- Once completely dry, they will turn hard and dark brown, you can either store them as they are in a closed jar or put them into an old coffee grinder or similar and grind to as fine a ‘grind’ as you wish.

- Store in a tightly closed jar in a cool, dark and dry place.

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