This week I decided to look for some really flavourful mushrooms - oyster mushrooms. I set off to Beacon Hill for a long walk and to scout around. I really don't know very many mushrooms, but all of the tasty ones I have spotted before at Beacon Hill. Apart from oyster mushrooms, I have seen ceps, bay boletes and chicken-of-the-woods...none of which are in season. Well you never know, I might get lucky.
Beacon Hill in Charnwood Forest, is the 2nd highest peak in Leicestershire, though only 248m (814ft). It still whips up a fair wind at the summit and gives spectacular views in all directions.
It was the site of a bronze age hill fort, and during the summer the upper part is grazed by rare breed sheep, pigs and cattle (and alpaca to protect the sheep from dogs), to maintain the natural heathland habitat.
Beacon Hill is the site for the National Forest's Woodfair which is held on the August bank holiday. It is an opportunity to see the woodcarving and other woodland skills in action and buy some locally crafted natural products (like the chopping board I bought last year).
Below is the 'Old Man of Beacon Hill'.
This theme has been introduced in many of the carvings around the hill. There are also carvings of little fairy houses in the labyrinth, but I can't go in there with my dog.
Instead we walked through the woods and admired some of the shelters that have been built by visitors. The one below was the best.
It looks lovely with it's stone base, thick curvy walls and green roof, but as a demonstration of the benefits of building with strawbale it is a bit rubbish.
The main benefit of strawbale is the super-insulating properties, but anyone visiting this shelter wouldn't notice those because it is an open shelter and even has large gaps in the walls.
Secondly, on the wall inside is the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf who blows down the house of straw. This re-enforces a message of a weak and vulnerable building, because a clever pig would build his house of bricks!
If you continue reading it explains why this strawbale structure is strong and how it is built, but I don't feel this is the best way to get this across. I need to do a post on some real strawbale buildings soon.
The ground under the beech trees was covered in leaves and empty beech nut cases. When I was a kid at primary school, my friend and I used to walk past a big beech tree each day. We would collect handfuls of the tiny little triangular nuts to take to school, and sit at our desks picking the shells off and munching on the tiny but tasty morsels. Really beech nuts are small and fiddly and other than showing them to my kids, I have never bothered with them since.
But the prospect of having just a few tasty nuts for my foraged meal was worth a bit of a hunt through the carpet of leaves. I knew that there were still some nuts about, because every flat stone or tree stump had the remnants of a squirrels dinner on it (The beech nut is top right in photo below). But every little triangular nut I picked up was empty and could be squashed flat between my fingers. It is only the fat ones that have a nut inside.
I soon gave up and focused on mushrooms, but really there were very few to be seen. Plenty of hoof fungus which isn't edible.
The red valerian and a really lovely texture, but for me it tasted vile, so that was taken off the menu. The ground elder was great though with a mild parsley flavour. According to John Wright, in 'River Cottage Handbook No. 7: Hedgerow', ground elder was introduced to the UK as a popular vegetable, but then despite growing out of fashion it continued to grow regardless. The flavour should help mask the bitterness of the dandelion leaves, as I have no dressing to add.
In the photo above clockwise from the top right there are wood aven roots, sticky weed tips, oyster mushrooms, dandelion root, ground elder, dandelion leaves and more dandelion in the centre. Once the mushroom hit the frying pan the smell was divine. Frying with water worked, except that it evaporates very quickly, so you have to keep adding more. I decided to add a little extra liquid to give a bit of mushroomy sauce for the salad, and a sprinkle of salt.