Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Jazzy January salad

  Despite the unrelenting rain, cold wind and lack of sunshine we've experienced over the past month or so, there are still a whole host of species of salad plants out there that are good for the plate.  The plants, fungi and lichen in this salad were picked entirely from the school field behind my house, in only 15 minutes.  Foraging need not be an activity for countryfolk with vast expanses of woodland and fields to roam - there is a surprising abundance of wild food in urban areas too, you just have to know where to look and what to look for.  Some of the species in this salad are ones that I would have thought everyone would recognise, such as the Common Daisy, Dandelion leaves and Cleavers (i.e. the 'sticky weed' that clings to clothes when thrown at people).

Here are the plant / lichen species used;

Plant / lichen species used - vernacular and latin names shown

Pick only young specimens of Dandelion, Ribwort Plantain and Cleavers - Dandelion and Ribwort Plantain get very bitter with age and Cleavers turn in to 'sticky weed' - not something you'd want to eat!

Oakmoss is a lichen found growing primarily on Oak, but can also be found on other tree species.  It is widely used in perfumery as a fixative and provides the base fragrance for many perfumes.  It provides an interesting colour to the salad, if not a particularly interesting taste - don't eat too much raw, as it can apparently disagree with some people.

Now for the funghi.  The mushroom used in this salad is the Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes).  I have picked these at an early stage of their fruiting cycle - when older, the stems become tough and blacken and the orange cap colour intensifies in the centre of the cap (still delicious to eat, I must add). The 'velvet' part of the name originates from the texture of the cap - with a little rain the cap becomes slimy and feels, you guessed it, 'velvety.'

Interestingly enough, many of you will have eaten this mushroom without knowing it - Japanese Enoki mushrooms (the long white ones with tiny caps) are the cultivated form of this exact mushroom, Flammulina velutipes.  The only difference is that they are grown in complete darkness, hence the elongated white appearance.  It therefore makes perfect sense to use these small Velvet Shanks raw in a salad, my very own Enoki!

I have always hated eating raw mushrooms, the mealy texture and the superiority of the taste once fried with a knob of butter and garlic being the reasons why.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised upon trying these - no mealy texture and they really do taste quite delicious - part mushroom, part toffee.

Velvet Shank grow on dead stumps or logs, notably on Elm. These are growing on a dead Horse Chestnut, however.

Poisonous lookalikes to be aware of are the Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) and the Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata) - both nasty pieces of work, particularly the latter! Also be aware of the Common Rustgill (Gymnopilus penetrans) - it is inedible and may well be poisonous.  Despite these three nasties, if care is taken reading your guidebooks and in identifying these, the Velvet Shank is a pretty safe mushroom to pick and eat.

BEWARE! - the four mushrooms to the left are not Velvet Shank, but some kind of inkcap - don't get complacent
when picking - ID every mushroom, as different species can live in harmony side by side

Really simple to put this salad together, simply mix all the leaves together, put your mushrooms, Oakmoss and Daisy flowers on top and dress.  I used a homemade hedgerow dressing - the fruitiness went really well with some of the more bitter tasting salad leaves.

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