Saturday 1 May 2010

King Alfred's cakes (Daldinia concentrica)

King Alfred's cakes or sometimes known as cramp balls or coal fungus are quite often found in woods on ash trees.  This fungus is hard, forming a semi-spherical black lump that are usually about 3-5 cm in diameter. Folklore has it that King Alfred in disguise once hid out in a countryside homestead owned by a peasant woman during the war with the viking Danes, and was put in charge of removing baking from the oven when it was done. He fell asleep and the cakes burned.The cakes burned, and the peasant woman gave her king a good scolding for his carelessness. Daldinia concentrica is said to resemble a cake left to this fate (hence the common name). Although this species is not edible the black variety can be used as tinder and even as a substitute for charcoal to cook over. On the underside you will see silvery-grey concentric rings and these rings can be ignited using a firesteel or similar. Once ignited blow to increase the glow until the fungus is burning like a charcoal briquette.

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