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Ramps and Dryad’s Saddle

We took a walk in Middleton Woods this weekend and it was just covered in ramps and bluebells. I collected enough wild garlic for 5–6 meals, and then towards the end of the walk we came across a bunch of enormous mushrooms on a log with caps almost as big as my face. It’s interesting, we came across very few mushrooms elsewhere. Perhaps it’s been too dry?

Though I was prettttyyyyy confident they were Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms, I wasn’t 100% sure… I had a look online to see if it can be mistaken for anything else and it seemed not. I also ran it past some friends that tend to know about these sorts of things and got a thumbs up.

Here’s the forest and the haul. Lemon for scale!

Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms on a log in Middleton Woods

Wild garlic and Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms with a lemon for scale

The ramps are super easy to cook, pretty much like spinach. Just sauté them in a little oil or butter with a pinch of salt and maybe some lemon juice.

Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms are also known as Pheasant Back mushrooms due to the pattern on the cap that looks like a pheasant’s feathers. They can be tough when they’re older so should only be eaten when young. When you give the stem a gentle squeeze there should be a bit of give, very similar to a store-bought mushroom. If they’re any firmer than that, they’re probably be too tough to be pleasant or worth it. Apparently the older specimens can be good to make broth, but I haven’t tried this. It can be hard to tell young from old since big does not necessarily mean old, this article on foragerchef.com has some tips on spotting young Dryad’s Saddles.

The Dryad’s Saddle takes a bit of prep, but not much honestly. I laid the mushroom cap-down on a cutting board and used the edge of a spoon to scrape off the pores on the underside of the mushroom. Very satisfying, they come away really easily. Next, I flipped it over and peeled off the top layer, the “feathers” of the Pheasant’s Back. This can apparently get a bit tough when cooked. At that point I was just left with a very large, creamy interior.

You can cook it a lot of different ways, check out this article and the previously linked Forager Chef article for tons of suggestions. They have a mild scent of cucumber or watermelon, so Kieran’s suggestion of cooking them in a soup with coconut milk and turmeric sounds really great.

I ended up slicing them thin and evenly, then baking them with olive oil and a little salt. This turned them in to mushroom chips, they were almost bacon-y and very crisp! Dryad’s Saddle supposedly can get a little dry and tough when cooked this way, but I didn’t have that problem at all. Probably just has to do with the age of the mushroom. I don’t recommend attempting to stir fry Dryad’s Saddle unless you have a very decently sized wok. Mine released a lot of liquid when I attempted which made for some serious splatter, hence transferring it to the oven.

Look forward to getting back in the woods in a few days.

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packing, selling, dissolving

Drawing of a dracaena

We’ve been slowly packing up for the past month, preparing to move thousands of miles away. It was exciting up until about two weeks ago. We knew it would be sad to leave the people we love, pack away our books, sell so many of our things. But we were looking forward to a big change.

Now it feels untethering. Reality feels very thin at the moment, and the process of moving amplifies that feeling. Home should be a grounding place, but it’s shifting under our feet. We’ve disassembled our workspaces, we’ve given away the chairs and sold the monitors. The umbrella plant that I got at the flower market when I first moved here, the dracaena I brought back from the dead, the lovely coffee table we’ve had since we first started living together. They’ll all be gone by tomorrow.

Drawing of a mid-century coffee table

I really don’t mind the downscaling. They’re just objects, and all of them are going to great homes. And we’re still going to move even if it gets delayed by current events, so it doesn’t make sense to hoard things for the sake of a few more weeks. But the *timing*. Things are dissolving and will be fluid for quite some time. I could really do with some solidity.

The worst part is that we may not get to say goodbye. We were planning to celebrate with the people we love. There’s an outside chance we’ll still be able to, but we don’t want to put friends in an uncomfortable or dangerous position.

What will happen will happen. And we’re pretty fortunate. It’s just sad, that’s all.

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Bleeding Tooth Fungus

When we were walking in the heath yesterday, we came across this creepy looking fungus with deep red shiny droplets oozing from it. Gave me the heebie-jeebies. I looked it up when we got back, looks like its scientific name is Hydnellum peckii. It has a few common names. “Strawberries and Cream” is one of the cuter names, “Bleeding Tooth Fungus” is probably a more accurate one. Unless you suffer from trypophobia, it’s worth looking up online. It’s not edible, supposedly it tastes pretty bad, but apparently it contains an effective anticoagulant.

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A foraging foray

Poplar mushrooms

This past Saturday, I went on a guided foraging walk with Daisy in east London. Got way too much sun!

It was so helpful to have a guide. I’ve considered just trying it with a book, but it’s hard to beat being able to ask questions and watch the way someone else watches. It reminds me of learning how to draw or paint, part of learning how it works is learning how to change your perspective. So it’s useful to observe the way someone else sees things. I’d still like to get a good book about it, but now I feel like I have a better idea of what I’d like to get out of that book.

The walk was from 10:30am to 2:30pm with one bathroom break but pretty much no other stops. Didn’t really need to stop for lunch since we were grazing anyway, but we did pause at the floating bakery. I had one of the best muffins I’ve ever had, felt like I needed to lie down afterward. He’s open Friday to Sunday, worth checking where he’s at online since he moves around a little.

Read list of what we saw and collected

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Assertive Californian seeds

Graphite drawing of a filaree seed

In southern California, there are a few seeds that assert themselves in late summer as things get drier. A lot of prickly, pointy things that stick to you or make themselves known in more painful ways.

Graphite drawing of dried burclover

A few of them were fun to play with as a kid. If you pick at the center of a dry burclover seedpod and pinch the end of it in your fingers, you can pull it away until all that’s left are a few seeds and one long coil of tiny spikes. Filaree seeds wind up tight to make a little drill when peeled away from the plant. And you can make foxtails travel on their own if you put your forearms together from wrist to elbow, hands facing up, and then have a friend place one on your wrists with the point facing you. Rub your forearms back and forth and it will travel down your arms.

Graphite drawing of puncturevine or Goats Head seed

But some seeds were just annoying. If you went for a walk through a field, chances are you’d come out with your socks and shoelaces absolutely covered in hedge parsley hitchhikers. Sandbur and puncturevine were the worst. Puncturevine has a few other nicknames. Goat’s Head, for the shape of the seed pod sections, and caltrop. It often grows on the dry, sandy areas near the beach making it particularly perilous for the bare-footed.