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April 25, 2012

ANZAC Commemoration at Ashley

I gather flowers for ANZAC tributes,

take them to school for the little ones to make sandsaucers,

and parents to make wreaths and sprays.

I return later in the day with Kitty, full of cold, and her homemade wreath,

to join her schoolfellows at the Ashley Cenotaph

for a pre-ANZAC Day ceremony.

The School Principal addresses the children and I remember my own school days when our Headmaster used to bring us across the road from the school to lay one single wreath in memory of the Fallen. Because ANZAC Day is a holiday, this school commemoration is always held close to 25th April - this year we gathered on 23rd April.

The Ode of Remembrance is recited and a bugler plays Reveille and the Last Post on a 100 year old bugle.

The children lay the flowers prepared in the morning,

and return to school.

I take a silent moment to salute the men who died from Ashley Bank in two wars, and particularly Private Schmidt,
who returned to NZ but died of pneumonia two days later. I suspect he never returned to his family at the Skudder House.

April 19, 2012

The Corona of Canopus

It's a long time since I have seen this fungus here in Ashley - maybe 30 years.  I identified the specimens that I found then - growing under pine trees - as stinkhorns, and stink they did.
This season's prolific 'flowering' has appeared on decaying pine roots at the edge of a heap of old trimmings. But I have a cold and I have barely noticed the smell as I close in for daily progress shots with my camera. Individual specimens unfurl over a day and wilt by the end of their second day. I haven't noticed a lot of fly activity and wonder if these are not particularly potent.  Maybe that explains their thirty year absence.

But I want to know more. Surely with the wonders of Google it will be a simple matter to identify this species; find its Maori name; determine whether it is edible or not? But knowing what questions to ask is crucial and finding the right questions means out-thinking the search engines!  No one specialist site addresses all my wonderings.  A complicating factor is that the term stinkhorn in New Zealand has broadened to include fungus baskets, which are a related species but are certainly not horn-shaped. They appear readily in the winter here and made an appearance in Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden last year. Initially every search I made took me to Ileodictyon cibarium. However, the form which I have identified as Aseroe rubra, does have a distinct tube rising from the basal 'egg' and flaring out into six arms.

But with all the images available on the internet, very few of them are identical to these.  Mine don't have the spore mass in a ring around the central tube. The smelly spore-laden mucus is spread only lightly along the arms, which have diabolically forked ends. Judging by other photos and also the joined state of the hatchling in my second photo, the forks may occur when the arms separate. To a novice like me, this certainly seems to be a highly variable species.

Once I had established the Maori name for this fungus, it was easier to find out whether it was used for food.  Apparently the unopened 'eggs' of both Ileodictyon cibarium and Aseroe rubra were wrapped in many layers of rangiora leaves and roasted in embers. Later, with the advent of cooking pots, they were boiled. Eating them uncooked caused staggering and loss of control but not as far as accounts show, death.
Although I would love to try this delicacy, I would need to first see it prepared by someone who is familiar with the method of safe preparation. But using rangiora leaves to make dolmada is something I might try sometime.

In 2002 New Zealand Post issued a set of stamps depicting Native Fungi: Aseroe rubra graced the 90 cent denomination.

And the Maori name?  Before I even began looking for it I knew it would be something special. Traditional Maori often used metaphor to describe the natural world as well as social structure and human qualities. I find the language has a beguiling poetry to it. One form of the name Puapua Tai, probably compares it to the sea anemone, which is also one of its English-language names along with red flower fungus and star fungus. Star fungus ... that brings me back to its distincitive Maori name Puapua a Autahi.  The elements of this name break down into garland and Autahi, which is the Maori name for the bright star Canopus. This precise reference is a reminder of the importance of the stars to the early navigators who crossed the Pacific Ocean. From my limited knowledge of Te Reo Maori, I recall that the preposition a instead of o to show pocession, indicates sacredness or reverence  So many references to this fungus - inluding its genus - express revulsion, but the Maori name accords it due wonder, which matches my own feelings at finding it at the bottom of my garden. So, because my Secret Garden stinkhorns seem to have their own distinct identity, I shall call them the Rays of Autahi.

The Organisations whose websites I found particularly useful when researching this post are listed below:

And for irreverence, indecency and sheer gee whiz factor check out The Stinkhorn Hall of Fame on the Mushroom Expert.Com

Pine, Radiata pine  Pinus radiata
Rangiora, Bushman's toilet paper, Bushman's friend  Brachyglottis repanda

April 14, 2012

Nutting Girl

As the walnuts and chestnuts begin to fall, I look back on the hazelnut harvest with wonder. The wonder is mainly because I have made an effort this year to gather them up, but they have been prolific, beginning to fall in late January and continuing until the end of March.

They are the fruit of four trees. When I left my job as a gardener with the Rangiora Borough Council, I was able to choose a few plants to take with me from the nursery, and I remember choosing some oaks and six unlabelled hazelnut bushes.  My father helped me plant them on a rise above the stream on the edge of his vegetable garden. Neither of us could have imagined that one day this hazel grove would complement a house planted on his garden.

Four plants have survived the years and each one produces a distinctively different nut.

The largest, which is probably the same as a Kentish cobnut has a high percentage of empty shells this year (time to dose it with molybdenum).  I'm not partial to the flavour of hazelnuts newly fallen, but these are truly delicious and sampling them, I can understand why the unseasoned ones are such a delicacy in England: they are milky and flavoursome with the texture of coconut.  But like so many truly delectable crop plants the quality of flavour is matched with inconveniences of processing: the empty shell ratio and the way the shaggy nut skin adheres to the shell when cracked open would turn commercial New Zealand growers away from them.

By comparison these nuts have poor flavour. If my trees were taken from cuttings as I suspect they were, they will have been selected for different qualities. If it weren't for the disappointing taste these little nuts would be ideal for confectionary, wrapped in chocolate.

The nuts above have a distinctive shape which I describe as heart-shaped. They also have a good flavour.

But these, with their standard shape and clean-skinned kernels, are non-descript in taste.
Still, I'm looking forward to using all of them over the winter, and have fond dreams of making flour-free, hazlenut macaroons and cakes. They'll probably get eaten by hand instead, and given away. 
But now, as I remember that Elwin's birthday is the time when the walnuts fall on our tin roof with reports like gunfire,  I'll leave you with Kitty's jig.

Her friend David taught her the Nutting Girl double jig in the Fieldtown tradition a few years ago, and they dance it together whenever David visits from Australia.

NB For the china fanciers amongst you, the saucers are a Staffordshire Royal Crown design marked 3444. Do please leave a comment if you know more about this design.