Scarlet elf cup – Identification, edibility, distribution

Sarcocypha coccinea

Scarlet elf cup clusterScarlet elf cups on mossy logfebruary bounty

 

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  • Edibility – 3 - Some guide books list them as inedible, perhaps because of their lack of succulence, but I rate them highly and am yet to encounter anyone who has had problems eating them.
  • Identification – 5 – Crimson red, young specimens goblet shaped, stem becoming less noticeable with age so becoming cup-shaped, 1-5cm diameter, pale on the outside, thin fleshed
  • Distribution – 3 - Can be found in large numbers where established
  • Season - January to April – flushing after a thaw
  • Habitat – Fairly common in humus rich, damp, deciduous woods with plenty of fallen wood, especially in the West.

These spectacular little fungi fall into the category of almost too pretty to pick. I find lots in a snowdrop-filled wood by the sea and the contrast of the red elf cups, white flowers and vibrant green moss makes it a very special place in February. I admired them for years without really bothering to try eating them – their thin red flesh put me in mind of chamois leather and didn’t seem to offer too much promise of flavour. So when a keen wild food chef I know started tweeting pictures of dishes using them and raving about them generally, I decided it was time to give them a go. Foraging is full of pleasant surprises, and elf cups are one of its best.

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Cooking elf cups in the woods

They have a subtle, earthy flavour with perhaps a hint of beetroot. Though the texture isn’t typical of mushrooms, they do cook well – either frying or in stews seems best.

They lend themselves so well to holding things, that I can’t resist filling them with other woodland gifts for some on-the-hoof raw hedgerow munching. I don’t usually recommend eating wild fungi raw, but haven’t encountered any problems with elf cups or young velvet shank (which taste like mushroom toffee!). If you do give it a go, try a little bit the first time. Early few-flowered garlic shoots, baby velvet shank, pink purslane and cep-infused lichen have all worked well and look, frankly, stunning.

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Scarlet elf cup with baby velvet shank and few-flowered garlic shoots

 

Scarlet elf cups are related to the equally attractive orange peel fungus which appears in the autumn usually on disturbed ground, new path edges etc. They look exactly as their name suggests, and I regularly pounce on actual orange peel by mistake!

Orange peel fungus - edible, but not as tasty as oranges

Orange peel fungus – edible, but not as tasty as oranges

Elf cups can be found in large numbers in certain places when they are flushing, but even then I urge people to pick these beautiful fungi with restraint and leave plenty to continue to do their important work decomposing wood and for others to enjoy. Read more about responsible mushroom picking here.

Elf cup sushi, with velvet shank and wild herbs

Elf cup sushi, with velvet shank, reindeer moss, cep powder and wild herbs

elf cupsReturn to wild fungi guide

2 Responses to “Scarlet elf cup – Identification, edibility, distribution”

  1. Those elf cup sushi ought to be on the menu at Noma! Brilliant. I must have a look through your articles and see if there’s anything else the mushroom books label “inedible” that are actually worth trying.

    • Thanks Matthew. Have a look at the clouded agaric entry – they aren’t usually recommended but I have no problems with them. Lots more to come, bu never enough time!

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