Friday, 16 September 2011

A Brilliant Year For Mushrooms... So Far

So far this has been a great year for mushrooms with a very wet and cool summer providing perfect conditions for a huge variety of species to start appearing. Autumn seems to be with us already after yet another disappointing summer here in the UK, yet already we've seen a massive amount of mushrooms in our forests and woodlands.

wild mushrooms

I've only been on a few forest walks in the recent weeks yet I've managed to see a great number of different varieties of mushrooms. I've seen Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) mushrooms , Ceps (Boletus edulis), Chanterelles, Parasol mushrooms, Giant puffballs, Amethyst deceivers and of course field mushrooms. The best places to find these species are in Oak forests, Beech forests, and other old grassland areas. Parasol mushrooms love to grow in fields and amongst bracken, as do giant puffballs which also love to grow amongst stinging nettles. Chanterelles like to grow in moist ditches on the edges of forests, usually appearing in the same spot every year.

We're only a few weeks into Autumn and so this is a very good sign for mushroom lovers here in England, and as winter comes theres bound to be loads of Oyster mushrooms to be found, along with many other species. Make the most of the abundance of mushrooms out in our forests now, but remember not to pick above the allowed 1.5kg limit per person (which, in our eyes, is too much anyway), and remember its illegal to collect for commercial reasons. In our part of England we're having a real problem with people collecting way above the limit and doing so for commercial reasons - either selling the mushrooms on to restaurants or shops.

If you find yourself having picked too many mushrooms then possible to consume, then you should consider the options of freezing or drying, depending on the species. Hedgehog mushrooms freeze quite well but can hold a lot of moisture - so when it comes to cooking them they release a lot of water. Another option is drying them - just slice the mushrooms thinly and lay them out on a wire rack and place in a warm cupboard, such as a boiler cupboard or airing cupboard. The mushrooms can then be re-constituted with water when ready for using. This method of preserving mushrooms works particularly well with species of Bolettes.

I'll try and add some mushroom recipes to our wild food blog over the course of the next few weeks.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Crab Apple Wine Recipe

This year has been excellent for crab apples with many trees loaded with the small, sharp fruit, most likely due to the amount of rain that we've been getting over the past few weeks. Summer seems to have been and gone in a flash, and the cold, blowy Autumn nights seem to be upon us already, so what better way to cheer yourself up by having a go at making a batch of crab apple wine to enjoy another year.

Its worth noting that it can take over a year, preferably 2, for the crab apple wine to ferment and become ready to consume, so its not really something that can be enjoyed quickly. The actual process of going out and searching for and collecting crab apples, as well as preparing the wine, are actually really good fun harmless fun in it self, so it could be a great way to spend a dull, rainy Sunday. And if you're anything like us, you'll put a lot of effort into collecting the crab apples and preparing the wine, only to leave it fermenting in your garage and completely forget about it until 3 or 4 years later... in which time it inevitably ends up tasting like a sherry...

Anyway if you haven't been put off yet then you should give this recipe a go. A good crab apple wine can actually be a very potent drink, a little like a very strong cider, so go wary when you're finally ready to consume it as it can pack a surprisingly strong punch. Refreshing, yet very potent. Its definitely well worth giving the recipe a go, head down to any nearby forests and you should find an abundance of crab apples already fallen to the floor - these ones should be fine to use, you'll only be crushing them yourself anyway so it doesn't matter if you use fallers plus by leaving plenty in the trees you'll be providing food for any wild animals to enjoy - horses and pigs love to feast on them even if humans don't (they leave a very bitter taste - coming from a first hand experience).

crab apple wine recipe
Crab Apple Wine Ingredients

4 kilograms / 8.5 lb's of Crab Apples
1 Campden tablet
Teaspoon of Pectozyme
1 kilogram / 2.5 lb's of sugar
300 grams / 8.5 lb's of raisins
Teaspoon of yeast nutrient
Sachet of Champagne yeast

Crab Apple Wine Recipe

Gather up around 4kg of crab apples and then give them a wash and de-stalk them with a knife. You then need to crush them - this is the fun part. An apple crusher or press is ideal, but obviously not everyone is this fortunate... everyone else can use a strong plastic bag, perhaps 2 black (unused!) binbags would be suffice - place the apples inside and then use a mallet or plank of wood. If using a mallet be careful as you don't want to puncture the bag and spill apple juice everywhere...

Get 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of cold water and drop in your Campden tablet. A Campden tablet is a sulfur based product which is used to kill bacteria which grow during the fermentation process, preventing many other wild yeasts from growing which would affect the flavour of your crab apple wine. The tablet should dissolve in the water, allowing you to add the contents of your bag - the crushed crab apples. Next, you need to add a teaspoon of Pectozyme. This is a pectic enzyme, which helps to break down the pectin found in the apples - pectin is found in the cell walls of plants. By breaking the pectin down it helps to speed up the extraction of the juice present in the apples.

Place the concoction in a cool, dry place and cover it with some kind of lid. You will need to stir it every day for 4 days. Don't worry what it looks or smells like at this stage, its early days yet. You will next need to strain out the mixture into another suitable container. Then you can add the 1kg of sugar followed by the 300g of raisins. Give it a quick mix and follow this up by adding the final ingredients - a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and a sachet of champagne yeast. The sugar helps with the fermentation process and also helps sweeten the wine, and the raisins also help to impart a deep, fruity flavour. The yeasts are obviously required to help with the fermentation of the wine.

This mixture will need to ferment for a week in similar conditions before straining for a final time, pressing the raisins in the process to extract their juices into the wine mix. And here it is, ready (well, not quite)... you'll need to avoid temptation and leave the wine to ferment for around 18 months, ideally longer. But remember, the longer you leave it the stronger it will get, so we recommend that you consume it between 18 and 24 months. When the mixture has fermented for long enough you can start to bottle it up. Remember to follow the routine of sterilising the wine bottles and equipment used in order to prevent your hard work going to waste.

I'd love to hear your own crab apple wine recipe suggestions, and would equally love to find out if you gave this recipe a go!

Wild Food Books