On the theme of hot, here’s three abundant wild foods that certainly fall into that category. Geoff Dann writes.

Pepper dulse

The first is a seaweed I’ve written about in the HIP before, so I’ll keep it brief. It’s called Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida), and it is one of the few edible seaweeds you can find in Hastings (in quite a few places on the rocks between the Harbour Arm and Ecclesbourne Glen). It’s more rich spicy than blow-your-head-off, but it is the only seaweed that is used purely for its flavour. You can use it sparingly raw as a spicy garnish for fish or a fried egg, or dry it and grind it and use it more like a traditional spice. This species is easily recognised by the smell and taste – you’ll know it when you find it. Hotness rating: 4 out of 10.

Water pepper

The second is a plant that you should be able to find quite easily if you look in wet woodlands in Kent and Sussex – it particularly likes to grow in damp ruts on woodland paths. It’s a member of the Dock family, and is called Water Pepper (Persicaria hydropiper). This species is actually cultivated in Japan, where it is used to make a wasabi-like sauce. When you first put it in your mouth it is reasonably mild, but if you start to chew then the hotness soon creeps up on you. Hotness rating: 7 out of 10.

Rufus Milkcap

The third is a mushroom, listed as inedible in many guidebooks, and given the name The Slayer in 1868 by English mycologist William Delisle Hay. His name didn’t catch on, and these days it is known as the Rufous Milkcap in Britain and the Red Hot Milkcap in America (Lactarius rufus). It’s fairly common in pine plantations within a few miles of Hastings, but do take care if you’re thinking of foraging for this one because the Milkcaps are not beginner level mushrooms (you need a good fungi book – and there’s a new hardback version of my book, Edible Mushrooms, coming out in June this year). As for its hotness – Hay had it right. It is best dried and used like curry powder. If you try it raw then, though mild at first, it will truly blow your head off. No taste to speak, just heat. Make sure you’ve got some water. Hotness rating: 11 out of 10.

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