Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Chestnuts and toadstools

 We had a free afternoon today after we'd finished our morning 'school work' with no clubs or play dates planned, so off we went to the woods.

A post on Facebook by ethnobotanist James Wong reminded me it was the start of chestnut season, so hunting for nuts seemed a good aim for our walk.

We also took a flask of hot water to make bramble tip and nettle tea, so our first job was scouring the hedgerow for nice soft bramble tips and healthy looking nettle tops, which we stuffed in the flask ready for our tea break. 

The chestnuts were easy to find along the paths, and we had fun stomping the prickly cases to release the nuts inside.  I showed the boys how some nuts were thin and some nice and fat and helped them decide which ones would be best to collect.  We also compared sweet chestnuts (edible) with horse chestnuts (not edible) so they could really get a good idea about what they were collecting.

I wasn't sure what to do with the nuts them once we got them, but a fortuitous meeting with a lady while we were having our tea led to the revelation that she peeled a bit of skin off, then put them in a pyrex bowl of water and microwaved them for 20 minutes. 

I did this when we got home (carefully checking for evidence of maggots) and used the resultant soft sweet boiled chestnuts to make a nut loaf, recipe at bottom of page.

 The rest of the walk we spend hunting for toadstools to photograph.  I've no idea what most of them are, but it will make a fun project printing the pictures and trying to identify them.

Searching for bugs in amongst the moss and fallen leaves was a popular pass time, with plenty of wriggly critters to spot.

 Watching where you put your wellies was a constant reminder between the toadstools and the dog muck.
The boys were disappointed not to find any earthballs ready to 'poof' out spores this time, but there were plenty of other weird and wonderful fungi to see, including a purple deceiver, a blue mushroom, frilly pink ones and lots of sulphur caps.  I liked these rubbery ones (I'm good at plant identification, but fungi are a whole other world of learning which I'm yet to master).

Note:  Don't eat anything you're not 100% familiar with, and follow normal common sense and local guidelines when foraging.  I had to be really vigilant with what and where the boys were collecting as the woods are a popular dog toilet.  I don't allow the kids to handle any fungi I'm not certain I can identify as safe, which for me is most of them, but do encourage them to crouch down and have a good look at them.

Nut loaf recipe:
I made this up as I went along, but it worked pretty well.  Better cooks can probably refine it a lot.

2 slices wholemeal bread, whizzed in a blender to make breadcrumbs
1 cup of boiled, peeled chestnuts roughly chopped
1 tin of chickpeas, whizzed to a rough chunky paste
teaspoon of salt
1 egg (not desperately needed, leave out if vegan etc)

Mix it all up, spoon into an oiled loaf tin (I laid a strip of baking paper inside to make it easier to lift out), pat it down fairly tightly with a spoon. It about half fills the tin, so enough for us with 2 adults and 2 small kids, but double ingredients for bigger servings. Bake in a hot oven (220C) for about 30 to 40 mins. 

As I had the oven on I also did a crumble: 2 finely chopped eating apples and a cup of aronia berries (or any other tart berries) with a tablespoon of sugar (I actually use molasses) sprinkled over for the base.  The crumble top was 2 cups of rolled oats, half cup of dessicated coconut, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, mixed and crumbled over the top of the base.  Cook for 30 mins in hot oven.  Good served with plain yoghurt or non-dairy alternative.

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