Country Diary: Edible fungus highly prized in Far East

Jew's ear
Jew's ear

At the closing of September, a highlight was the annual, ‘All Muck and Magic Gardens Awards’, at Scarborough’s Spa. Michael was overjoyed to receive a top ‘gold’ award for Montrosa’s Residential Home, and a silver cup (along with Ken Gill), as champion gardeners.

Entering October marked our planting of winter pansies, along with sweet william seedlings and lupins for next summer’s blooming. Our tomatoes and cucumbers, and the exchange of apples and pears is one of autumn’s delights.

Busy bees return to their hive laden with pollen. We have a pollen guide, almost resembling a Dulux paint colour chart, which indicates the colour of pollen produced by various plants in season. Balsam, dandelion and ivy, are now visited.

Most conspicuous in many shrubberies are snowberries. The clusters of round, white berries resemble mini snowballs. Many folk liken them to mint imperials, but there the similarity ends. The pallor of the berries makes them seem wrong as a food. The ethereal texture is so appealing that I do pick one occasionally. I dislike the taste, but they’re not harmful.

We’ve found a fairly common fungus locally, growing on old elder bushes. It’s called Jew’s ear. This ear-shaped fungus usually grows in clusters, is reddish brown in colour, and soft and gelatinous when young. It is not a specimen to leave around your home if you have sensitive visitors. Neither should you forget to remove it from your own pocket, as it’s clammy and jelly-like to touch. Ugh!

However, it’s said to be a good, edible species, and is much prized in China. Jew’s ear is believed to be a reference to Judas, who reputedly hanged himself from an elder tree.

Usually we find old specimens which are hard. Seek young ones during October and November whilst they’re still soft. Use a knife to cut Jew’s ear from the tree.

Wash the ‘fleshy’ ears well, and slice them finely before stewing for at least three-quarters of an hour in stock or milk. Then serve with plenty of pepper. What a treat for Michael when we next discover it!

During a recent country walk I met a lovely lady named Ann. She was tending her vibrant array of floral containers, erupting with colour. Ann is passionate about gardening – and tortoises. I was kindly introduced to her family of six tortoises, in a small, private garden of their own. They even have a heated shed in readiness for hibernation. The eldest is 62 years old, purchased by Ann when she was 10, for the handsome price of a half a crown.

We recently visited a site of badger activity close to Michael’s hives. A considerable amount of straw had been dragged from a neighbouring field, and along leafy tunnels to their sett. Chilly autumn nights prompted fresh bedding for their winter hibernation.

A red admiral butterfly was recorded on ivy.