The wild larder is not completely bare at this time of year, whilst Mother Nature begins to tease us with the appearance of the first snowdrops and the sprouting of daffodils; spring is still a long way off. But do not despair, she has spared us a few treats from the hedgerow to munch on: Sorrel, Bittercress and chickweed seem to be abundant along with two members of the fungal family: Oyster mushrooms and Jew’s ears.
We find ourselves in a sad little world indeed, when a mushroom has to have a preferential name to avoid anti-Semitism. For some time whilst teaching foraging I couldn’t decide what to introduce this tasty fungi as. Its pseudonym of ‘Jelly Ear’ is all well and good in descriptive terms- it certainly does look like an ear, lobes cartilage the lot, but in a historical context the non-PC version is preferential.
The Latin name Auricularia auricula-judae hints to its past, eventually adapted from ‘Judas Ear’ to ‘Jew’s Ear’ it was so named under the belief that Judas Iscariot hung himself on an elder tree, the principle host on which you will almost always find this fungi growing, others include beech and sycamore infrequently.
The Jew’s ear is not a difficult one to find, as mentioned, Elder trees are the place to look. They often grow on dead parts of the tree devoid of bark, either in a cluster or in a row. When picking, simply take a knife and cut the fungi off as close to the base as possible. There are a number of reasons why this fungi is worth picking more often: