Most Britons are scared of toadstools, terrified of making a fatal mistake, but the parasol (Macrolepiota procera) is the perfect entry to the gastronomic paradise of wild fungi. This is one of Britain’s most delicious and distinctive mushrooms: common, unmistakeable and superb to eat.
Although ornithologists find the concept of a partridge sitting in a pear tree pretty ridiculous (they are not passerines – perching birds – but rather denizens of open country), but to my mind there are excellent culinary reasons to associate these little game birds with Christmas . . .
The fruit of the blackthorn is justly famous as a gin flavouring and the perfect time to pick these is after their skins have been softened by the first frost. Thanks to its hard needle-sharp spikes (they can puncture tractor tyres) blackthorn is one of the best hedging materials and is therefore one of our commonest small trees, likely to be encountered anywhere across the country. In former days its chestnut-barked wood was in high demand for walking sticks and riding crops, but today we are more likely to be after its fruit.
After two or three disastrous breeding seasons, butterflies are fortunately beginning to appear in large numbers again. Thanks to their brightly coloured wings and nectar diet, these are one of the few popular insects families.
The coming weeks are the best time to see what must be our most colourful bird along our rivers and lakes. Even the most ignorant birdwatcher should have no difficultly recognising the small electric blue form streaking away low and fast across the water, for kingfishers are unmistakable with their bright metallic blue-green backs, orange breasts and red feet. At first glance the sexes appear identical, but when viewed close up, the female has a red lower mandible. In common with most birds, the young are drabber than their parents, only gaining the full iridescent plumage of their parents as they reach breeding age at a year old.
December 2009 – Partridge is available throughout the autumn and makes the perfect vehicle for a wild mushroom sauce…
Many innate fears are instinctive. Take for example, a child’s need of a nightlight. This is probably genetically programmed, plugged into a distant African past when leopards and lions lurked in the shadows to seize the unwary. Or there are entirely rational worries about heights – after all, one slip could mean death.
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