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Pickled Elf Cup Mushrooms

Between December and April, you might find these little red elf cup mushrooms on dead wood, fallen branches and twigs. They could be either Scarlet Elf Cup (Sarcoscypha austriaca) or Ruby Elf Cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea) as these two species are indistinguishable with the naked eye - but both are edible, and, in our opinion, good eating.

In the UK, the elf cups aren’t easily confused with anything else (besides each other!), so they are a good one to forage for beginners. But please make sure you are 100% sure of an ID before you eat anything. You can find identification notes and lots of pictures here. As always, remember to be considerate when you forage and leave some for nature, too.

This isn’t really a set recipe, it’s more of a technique, as pickling is as much an art as it is a science! Before pickling your mushrooms, clean them off as best you can, wiping off any dirt and moss with a damp piece of kitchen paper. Some people suggest it gets easier to clean them if they have been dipped in vinegar first but we’ve found a little bit of water works OK.

For longer term pickles:

You’ll need the vinegar of your choice, some pickling spices, some oil (olive or rapeseed works best), and a sterilised jar.

To sterilise jars, wash them with hot soapy water and stick them on a roasting tray. Put the tray in a cold oven and then turn it on to 180ºC for about 30 minutes. Let your glass jars cool in the oven with the door open before using. To sterilise the lids, boil them in water on the hob for 15 minutes.

To make the pickled mushrooms, figure out roughly how much vinegar you will need to cover the mushrooms in your jar, and add that amount of vinegar to a pan on the hob to heat up - it’s best to do this with the windows open! Add the pickling spices of your choice (see below for ideas) to infuse in the vinegar for about 5 minutes. Take the vinegar off the heat and leave to cool slightly, before pouring over the mushrooms in the jar, leaving a bit of headroom. Once cooled, add the oil to the jar to cover the mushrooms - this makes sure they’re covered and therefore don’t go bad. The mushrooms should keep for up to 3 months in the fridge, so long as they remain under the oil.

For quick pickles:

You’ll need the vinegar of your choice and some pickling spices. If you are using them up quickly, feel free to use a clean bowl or tupperware rather than a jar. It doesn’t need to be sterilised if you think you’ll eat them quickly within a week or so.

Add the vinegar and spices together in a bowl. If the vinegar is particularly strong, you can add a small splash of water if you’d like. Add the mushrooms and leave for a couple of hours for the flavours to infuse before using. If you need to use it sooner, giving the vinegar and spices (without the mushrooms) a quick blast in the microwave for 2 minutes will do the trick.

Flavouring inspiration

Simple: red wine vinegar, bay leaves, and peppercorns - pretty versatile, good on cheese on toast

À la grecque: cider vinegar, thyme sprigs, lemon zest, garlic - again pretty versatile, good with a cheese board

Thai: rice vinegar, lime leaves, lime zest, garlic and ginger - great with thai foods, putting in banh mi, etc.

Game spices: cider vinegar, juniper berries, and carraway - great with wild game, beef, pork and savoury apple dishes

Refreshing: rice vinegar, pine needles, juniper - great with a cheese board or to dress a fancy cocktail

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