In the 19th century the edible wood-ear fungus (Auricularia cornea) flourished on the decaying trees that surrounded 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 into the 1960s – but never on the scale of 1885, when its export value exceeded that of butter. Although it has little flavour, the fungus 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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