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Easily identifiable, edible fungus

As the first leaves begin to fall and the days shorten, fungus gatherers head for the woods. Auricularia auricula-judae, the Jew's ear or jelly ear fungus is often overlooked, although its appearance is distinctive. It's dark and jelly-like and it's ear-shaped. It's edible and there are no similar confusion species that are poisonous. These fungi can be found all year round, although the ideal collecting time is autumn and winter, especially when it's cold and damp but with temperatures above freezing.

How the fungus got its name

The German Society of Mycology has selected the Jew's ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) as fungus of the year 2017, to draw attention to this extraordinary fungus. The fungus is often found growing on the trunk and branches of older elder trees and this is probably the source of the Latin name as Judas was said to have hanged himself on an elder tree after betraying Christ. The fungus has several common names, including elder fungus, because of this association with elder trees and jelly ear because of its gelatinous consistency. It draws its nutrients from the wood and gradually destroys it. Now and again the fungus can also be found growing on other deciduous trees such as sycamore and beech.

 

The outer side of the fungus varies from reddish brown to violet-grey and feels velvety to the touch. The skin on the inside is smooth. Growing on a tree, with only sporadic access to water, the fungus has developed the ability to shrivel up during dry periods and swell up again when it rains.

Cooking with the Jelly ear fungus

The fungus can be cultivated commercially on dead wood. It is closely related to the Chinese mu-err (Auricularia polytricha) a popular edible fungus, also called the Cloud ear fungus. The Jelly ear fungus is edible, but its taste is unremarkable and it tends to absorb the flavours of whatever it is cooked with. It goes well in a dish of mixed mushrooms or in a wok stir-fry. It can be easily dried and stored for future use.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de