In the 19th century the edible wood-ear fungus (Auricularia cornea) flourished on the decaying trees around Taranaki’s newly cleared pastures. Known as Taranaki wool, Jew’s ear, mouse ear, jelly fungus or cloud ear, the fungus was a saving grace for local farmers, who sold it for much-needed cash. Established in 1870–71, the trade survived well into the 1960s – but never on the scale of 1885 when the fungus’s export value exceeded that of butter. Although it has little flavour it is used in Chinese and Thai stir-fries to provide a crunchy texture.
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Photograph by Ron Lambert
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