Just to the north of Bassenthwaite lake lies Messengermire Wood. Who the messenger was, and whether he got sucked into the mire, is a tale I've yet to uncover, but there's a story lurking behind the name somewhere. It's certainly very damp in places, after the recent rains, but oh, what a glorious aroma as you disturb the fallen leaves.
The track that leads into the wood is bounded on both sides by ancient hedgerow. It's a foragers paradise. Plenty of holly and ivy for the festive decorations next month (cheaper, nicer, and much more fun to put up, than imported tat from the far east). The buckthorn is still laden with sloes (just about time to steep your sloe gin, if you haven't already done so). There are crab apples too. Apart from the traditional crab apple jelly, you can steep these in vodka, the same way you make sloe gin, or they're the perfect size for making toffee apples. A nice treat for bonfire night, this weekend?
But let us continue into the wood. We'll avoid the mire by sticking to the higher ground. There are mushrooms galore in here, but the one I want to introduce you to today, is Chicken-of-the-Woods, because it's a nice, easy to identify, tasty mushroom. Look for it growing out of dead, or dying, trees, particularly oak, for which it has a fondness. This one is past its best, and beginning to fade. When young, they are a rich golden orange. As you can see, they form overlapping fans. There are many similar looking 'shrooms, but look underneath. There are no gills. It has tubes instead. The only similar fungus, with tubes instead of gills, that I know of, is Dyer's Polypore. However, this sticks pretty well exclusively to pine trees, which Chicken-of-the-Woods rarely does. If you do happen to get the wrong one, Dyer's Polypore isn't poisonous, but tastes horrible, apparently. One last thing about Chicken-of-the-Woods: you can't eat it raw. It must be thoroughly cooked. It's very good, sautéed in butter. As with all foraging, don't stuff yourself full of it on first go, you may have a personal adverse reaction to it. Try a little first and see how you go.
And one final foraging note. We didn't find any Sweet Chestnut trees in Messengermire, but Ishbel collected a nice basket full, from our local tree, whilst taking Mattie out for her early morning walk the other day. Did you know, Mattie has her own page? Mattie's Diary
All the best,
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Beetles and Butterflies; spiders and scorpions; woodlice and worms. How do you tell them all apart? To say nothing of crane flies, dragonflies, bee flies and yet more butterflies. Are they all flies? If not, why call them so? If you're fascinated but confused by the beautiful world of the very small, then this is the book for you.
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