Friday, October 09, 2009

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise …

We have indeed been down to our woods to collect the last of the logs that I cut last winter. They should have long been brought back to our permaculture smallholding, split and stacked to season a long time ago but, as always, it’s a question of available time versus jobs that need doing. It was as much as I could do to get all the trees I wanted down—so thinning a parcel of sycamores—before the sap began to rise, heralding the start of spring and marking the end of the cutting season. I’d started better than our previous two winters and I suppose I got lulled into a false sense of security. At the end, with primroses popping out earlier than expected, Paddy came to help for two days, swapping his time for firewood for his Raeburn cooker and water heater. Once the trees were down and logged, they were left while I attended to other pressing jobs back at our smallholding.

When we bought the wood, there was no access at all and for the first year I had to ask a couple of farmers if I could drive my borrowed tractor over their fields after their cereals were harvested to collect the wood. The second winter, I cut a forest ride down the middle, giving tractor access right to the back of the wood. The parcel of sycamores cut last winter adjoins the ride but I still have to collect the logs in a barrow and wheel them to the ride. Back in May, volunteer John helped me collect about half but a few days here and there since still left a good third getting increasingly hidden in the undergrowth. Help turned up this week in a large red hippy-style van: Nick, a long-standing guitar-playing mate of Gabrielle’s, with his daughter Jess with partner Rich.

Tuesday afternoon, Jess and Rich came down the woods with me, leaving Nick to play music with Gabrielle, preparing for a gig at our bar, which I’d arranged without first telling them (photo taken that evening: Nick on the left). Jess and Rich live at Coed Hills Rural Artspace, a sustain-able living community in Wales, and are into a whole lot of permaculture stuff. We returned the following day, with tractor and trailer borrowed from neighbour Paul, and with their help had the whole lot back at our place in three trailer loads.

Piles of logs are great wildlife habitat—Permaculture Zone 5—and we un/dis-covered a day-glo fire salamander (Latin name salamandra salamandra and salamandre tachetée in French. See photo at top). We carefully relocated this into some suitable undergrowth nearby and carried on loading logs, disturbing a tiny grey frog, which scuttled off on its own, then a nest of baby mice (we think) which we recovered in situ, leaving the last few logs in place; I’m sure mum wasn’t far away and would soon return after we left.

I was also happy to see that one of the sycamore stumps, that I had previously inoculated with pearl oyster mushroom spawn, fruiting (Lat. Pleurotus ostreatus, Fr. Pleurote en forme d’huître). The mushrooms were in perfect condition for harvesting and eating. Back at home, I showed him an oak stump, which I had also inoculated but which hadn’t taken. Surprise, surprise, the reason was nestling inside the hollow stump : a large fresh specimen of Beefsteak fungus (Lat. Fistulina hepatica, Fr. Fistuline hépatique or langue de boeuf (beef tongue)). A first for me, it was interesting to see how Rich confirmed its identity, confidently enough to consign it to the cooking pot. The context was important, this fungus the cause of brown rot in oak and chestnut and it fruits in autumn. You can see from the earlier photograph, taken when (futilely!) inoculating the stump with oyster mushroom, that the tree had been partially hollowed out and the heartwood left stained red, both signs of beefsteak fungus behaviour. The dark, liver-coloured and rubbery flesh was red and marbled with white veins, just like a piece of meat marbled with fat and, when cut, exuded a watery, blood-coloured liquid. All of these details taken together make it a beefsteak fungus.

Prior to cooking, it was soaked in water for 24 hours to remove a bitter acidity and then dried with kitchen towel before braising, together with the oyster mushrooms and herbs, in goose stock and red wine, and served on a bed of pearl barley, also cooked with the goose stock. Delicious! (Recipe inspiration from The River Cottage Mushroom Handbook by John Wright.)