Wood Ear / Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae
Wood ears are a jelly fungus that grows on dead wood, especially Elder. In wet weather they look like a brown membranous ear hanging from the tree. When it is dry they shrivel up into a small black lump like a hard dry raisin. They change from one state to the other as the weather changes and are known as resurrection fungi. They can be found all year, whenever there is heavy rain, but are less common in the summer.
They are a very popular mushroom in Asia especially China and Japan. The first thing to do with wood ears in the kitchen is wash and soak them in cold water for 10mins or so to hydrate them fully. They have a crunchy texture sometimes described as inside out pasta, a firm bite on the skin and soft centre. Although they do not have a strong flavour they add a definite savouriness to dishes.
Related to Wood Ears is Tripe Fungus. This grows in semi-circular lobes on fallen logs and stumps. It is often green with algae on the upper surface but with a broad whitish lip. The under surface is pale greyish brown and wrinkled to resemble tripe. It can be used like the Wood Ear