Head Chef, Darren, gives the low down on these stunning wild mushrooms…
Scarlet Elf Cups are, for me, one of winter’s most exciting ingredients. They offer such an impact of colour in the hungry gap. Winter greens and mushrooms are a staple in colder times but the colours feel fresh and light and can be very appealing. When the ground has become carpeted with brown leaves and fallen branches and the shoots of new growth start to show, these mushrooms feel like the start of an influx of new ingredients to get excited about.
When to find them:
As the crisp mornings begin to get that little bit brighter, January is a good time to start keeping your eyes peeled for these stunning fungi. In the past I’ve found them a little later in the year, more towards March, but I guess as the winter season seems to be changing with colder weather arriving later, it can be quite mild in January meaning that if you’re lucky, you could spot them early.
Where to find them:
Mainly found in mossy patches, fallen branches & leafy littered areas, they can be incredibly easy to spot when you know where to look. Their striking scarlet red colour really stands out against the dull browns and mossy greens of the forest floor. It’s best to start looking in your local wooded areas – check fallen branches in mossy areas where the sun can make it through the trees but where it is still damp. The mushrooms tend to grow in a sort of troop, meaning if you find one, you’re likely to find several along the same branch or area of moss. We are very lucky here at Nancarrow , I stumbled across an amazing patch that I visit each year. It’s just behind where the pigs are, in an area of woodland that meets the pond. It has a perfect balance of damp, sunlight & fallen branches.
Correctly identifying the right species of mushroom can be tricky. Only eat them if you are 100% sure they are the correct variety and that they have been prepared accordingly. You’re very welcome to send me a photo if you’re unsure and we can let you know whether or not they are indeed a Scarlet Elf Cup!
To help ID these mushrooms, what you’re looking for is that they are present in the location described above, irregularly cup shaped with a scarlet red or slightly orange colour inside. The mushrooms have a very short stem and a slightly different coloured exterior. They are relatively uncommon but are found in a widespread area over the UK. Another mushroom that could be confused with the Scarlet Elf Cup is the Orange Peel Fungus. It is slightly different in shape and it won’t have the same distinctive red colour of the elf cup. As a beginner in mushroom foraging, the Scarlet Elf Cup is great to start with as not many mushrooms will grow at this time of year in these conditions, let alone be red and cup shaped!
Although I highly rate these mushrooms, they are often not prized for their taste. They can be eaten raw and have a very subtle flavour. I find drying them or pickling them as I have done in this recipe adds a real depth to their flavour. They add a huge impact of colour & seasonality in the hungry gap season.
Pickled Scarlet Elf Cups
- 200g picked & cleaned mushrooms
- 150ml of cider vinegar
- 150ml neutral oil, such a vegetable or sunflower
- 150ml cold pressed rapeseed oil
- 1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 2 piece of lemon peel
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 spring of thyme
To prepare the mushrooms, use a small brush to remove any moss, dirt or leaves. Don’t wash the mushrooms, they will just absorb the water and dilute their delicate flavour.
Warm the vinegar with the chilli, lemon, garlic and thyme, then leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain the vinegar and place into a blender or food processor. Slowly pour in the two oils, allowing the mixture to thicken & emulsify. Once emulsified with both the oils, place the scarlet elf cups in a sterilised jar, pour over the pickle & seal. This will keep for 3 months in the fridge as long as the mushrooms are completely covered with the oil. Leave them overnight just to let the pickle work it’s magic. You can then use them straight away in salad, risottos, stews or keep them as a larder ingredient.
p.s. This pickle recipe will work fantastically with any vegetable, especially leeks. This is an adaptation of a classic dish called leeks al la greque, pickled leeks in a velvety vinaigrette.