Wooden ear mushrooms are one of many delights of a cold-weather stroll, whether or not it’s a humid day in early spring or when the temperature is variety sufficient to hover above freezing in deep winter. Their darkish caps, tender as velvet and disconcertingly alive between the fingers, cling to logs and typically to injured, dwelling timber, upon which they feed. It’s straightforward to dislodge them with a delicate tug. They’re pliable after rain or underneath snow-melt, however shrivel up within the absence moisture, turning as inflexible and brittle as previous sea shells. As quickly as any recent precipitation happens, they plump proper again up once more, resilient and—to the individuals who know and love them—irresistible.
Images by Marie Viljoen.Above: Younger wooden ears on a lifeless tree.
In america wooden ears are offered nearly completely at Asian markets. They’re one of many oldest mushrooms in cultivation, grown for hundreds of years in China, the place they’re held in esteem as a purposeful meals. The mushrooms of commerce are offered dry, typically labeled as black fungus or cloud fungus. Rehydrated, they behave precisely as they do on their favourite log after rain, changing into floppily tender. However they’re at their most opulent softness when recent, which is why my eyes mild up after I see a log frilled with the brown and black caps which can be typically frosted with a superb layer of fuzz on their higher floor.
Above: Within the lifeless of winter, wooden ears are a welcome sight.
Wooden ears belong to the species advanced Auricularia. For the common mushroom hunter, narrowing down a wooden ear discover to a specific species is troublesome, and I don’t attempt. They belong to a gaggle of mushrooms recognized collectively as jelly fungi, whose unifying high quality is…? Sure! Their gelatinous nature. Wooden ears are wobbly.
Regardless of their affiliation in commonplace mushroom literature with elderberry shrubs (Sambucus species) I’ve solely as soon as seen wooden ears rising on lifeless elder wooden. Largely, they’re on logs, giant and small, whose id has been stripped together with their bark. In Brooklyn additionally they seem on dwelling road timber—multiple London airplane in my neighborhood has a seam of wooden ears rising up its trunk, fissured by trauma or illness.Above: A flush of wooden ears in summer season.
Not like most different mushrooms, which are usually related to a specific season, wild wooden ears could be discovered year-round, so long as circumstances are humid sufficient: floppy and big when mature, or pertly cupped when very younger.
Above: Wooden ears in January.
Someway the wooden ear flush of the cool months are probably the most alternative. Maybe as a result of they appear so alive when every thing else is resolutely hibernating or lifeless.Above: A February log-ful of moist wooden ears.Above: An early April forage of wooden ears and lesser celandine.
Once I first started gathering wooden ears I turned to conventional East Asian recipes for steerage, including the mushrooms to Chinese language-style scorching and bitter soups the place they took on the flavour of the liquid.