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Wonders in the Woodchip! The Black Morel

They always say ‘ keep your favourite edible mushroom sites a big secret’, but it’s even better to prize this information out of other people! Hoo ha ha! (my best evil laugh)

Picture of Black Morel (Morchella elata)A Gardener/ landscaper, while in the area, overheard my mushroom ravings while at my local watering hole. He wanted me to identify a mushroom found in one of his new clients’ gardens. After a quick glance on his iPhone I immediately knew it was a Black Morel (Morchella elata).

After badgering the poor chap and discovering the exact location of these beauties (literally up the road!) I went onwards to then bother the owner of the said garden. Luckily he was very accommodating and allowed me to take pictures and take them all if I wanted. I only took a few and left the rest to do their thing.

This is the season for Morels, which is early spring (april/may) and they were in abundance amongst the woodchip of this side street front garden. They were a little past their prime and were very large specimens (up to 15cm). Most of the older and blacker ones had split open at the top, but a few were salvageable and I took these home.

The Black Morel is similar to the more common Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) but it is darker reddish brown (getting blacker as it ages). The cap is more conical in shape with almost parallel ridges and pits flowing vertically upwards. And like the Yellow Morel it is also completely hollow inside both the cap and stem. Take a closer look at the stem which is whitish/brown – you’ll also see mini granules on it’s surface which have a mildly rough texture.

A totally natural environment for the Black Morel is on Chalky soil within coniferous woodland (esp. Scotland), but in recent years these fungi have appeared more often in urban environments such as roadsides or wasteland, and especially in gardens amongst the woodchip. The mycelium itself remains in the wood throughout transport and when scattered on a soil it likes it tends to fruit in numbers.

As a much sought after, excellent edible mushroom it’s best to grab these when they are younger, and also remember they are not out for long as they have a short fruiting season.

I’m no top chef but I do know you shouldn’t eat these raw, they must be cooked well before consumption. Their hollow body acts as a natural dish when cut in half. Filling them with a savoury stuffing to put in the oven is a great idea. They also go well with in sauces accompanying meat dishes due to their strong robust flavour.

For now I’m going to dry my specimens as this is the best method for storage, and I’ll come back to them later when I have a few recipe ideas. A good tip is to make sure you clean them thoroughly before storing as insects can tend be missed when hidden in the hidey holes!

Hope you all find some soon. Enjoy.

Black mushroom with honeycomb pattern

The Black Morel (Morchella elata). Note the granular surface on the stem and hollow body when cut in half.

And to end, I’d like to finish with this popular carol:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…

Not for your toast – Witches’ Butter

After a pretty unsuccessful local walk looking for the more favourable spring mushrooms I happened to stumble across these ugly little beauties! Any ‘find’ is a bonus anyway, and I was also glad to get some good shots of them too…

It’s common English name is Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa) and is a widespread, common jelly fungus found throughout the year. It is found on dead wood of deciduous trees, usually on fallen branches but also on dead standing wood too.

At first glance, groups of this black jelly fruiting bodies look like scattered blobs of tar on the dead branches and it’s only on closer inspection you notice the finer details.

Exidia glandulosaGenerally 2-4cm in size, they can grow up to 6cm in diametre and are attached to the wood by a very tiny stem that is only noticeable once you have removed them out of situ.

They are often misshapen but usually disc shaped with randomly scattered tiny warts on their smooth, almost felt-like surface. Fruiting bodies often merge together and overlap giving the deceptive appearance of being one big fused mass of black fungi.

The consistency, as you’d expect, is very ‘squishy’ and gelatinous. Soon after wet weather they are more conspicuous and at their most productive. In prolonged, dryer weather they can shrivel up to hard membranous lumps. But fortunately for them, can rehydrate very quickly and hence last all year round.

Other similar looking fungi include Exidia plana, also known as Black Witches’ Butter (which is a confusingly similar English name!) and is made up of many smaller cup shaped fruiting bodies, merging together to give it a ‘brain like’ appearance, and Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans) which lack the small pimples are shaped like a disc when mature. All very weird indeed, and needless to say, these (like our common Witches’ Butter) are also inedible.

Witches Butter fungus Identification

Top: Typical disc shaped Witches’ Butter on a fallen branch and the brown jelly flesh inside. Below: Several fruiting bodies on the same branch, with several fusing together.

Halloween Special 2 – Dead Man’s Fingers

It’s Halloween today, so to make this post especially spooky I’ve had to put this freaky fungus in. And what a fantastic name it has too.

Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) grows on dead wood (usually beech & sycamore) throughout the year, and is very common. The fruiting body is black and irregularly club shaped, often in small groups. It’s of a small(ish) size, reaching up to 8cm in height and up to 3cm in diametre. It’s hard outer shell protects the white flesh within where the spores are produced.

As you can guess this fungus is quite inedible and I don’t think anyone would fancy a nibble anyway! But the best thing about it is it’s strange general appearance. As you can see in the picture below there’s a small group of them growing on dead wood. If you look at the two on the far left, you can see where they get their common name from. Spooky!

Dead Mans Fingers

Dead Mans Fingers – reaching out from the grave?

 

Dead Man's Fingers Pictures

A large collection of Xylaria polymorpha on the moss of dead wood (left). A Dead Man’s Finger cut in half exposing the white spore mass inside.

Anyone for cake? – King Alfreds Cakes

King Alfred was a terrible cook. In fact (but really in legend) while hiding from the Danes, he’d left a whole batch of cakes in the oven. They were suitably burnt and naturally ruined. So I can only guess he went to the woods and scattered them everywhere on dead ash trees to try and cover up his mistake and pass them off as some kind of fungus. Or something!

Cramp Ball fungusKing Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) attach themselves on the dead wood of broad leaved trees, mainly ash and beech. It’s one of those distinctive fungi I see every almost every time I’m out in woodland. Although their season is summer to autumn, the older specimens linger on the wood for years and years.

Their appearance is literally that of some burnt cakes or even lumps of smooth charcoal. Older fruit bodies have a shiny surface, but younger developing fruit bodies are red/brown in colour with a duller surface. If you were to cut one open it would reveal silver/light and black concentrical zones (hence the ‘concentrica’ in the scientific name), very similar to the ring zones of a tree – or at least half a tree (due to their hemispherical shape).

King Alfreds Cakes

Typical black lumps or ball shapes growing on dead logs

Other ‘common’ names for this fungus are Coal Fungus (for obvious reasons) and Cramp Balls because it used in an old folk remedy for night cramps. I think I’d rather have the night cramps!

And as a great bush craft tip, these beauties are great for starting fires! The inner flesh of an old, dry specimen can be lit with a ‘firesteel’ flint for example (or even a magnifying glass). It will slowly smolder, much like your barbecue briquette and can be used to light your tinder.

But needless to say – much like burnt cakes – these fungi are not edible.