Wednesday, 19 April 2017

King Alfred's Cakes

On a recent botanical outing we came across the fungus called in English 'King Alfred's Cakes'. The name comes about because it resembles burnt cakes, such as might have been the result of King Alfred's lack of attention when asked to mind the cakes on the griddle in the well-known English legend.

Since this legend has no resonance in French history, the fungus has a much less imaginative French vernacular name -- Daldinie concentrique, merely a Frenchifying of its scientific name Daldinia concentrica.

The species is also very commonly known as Cramp Balls, as well as having several names which refer to its resemblance to coal, such as Coal Fungus and Carbon Balls. It occurs over a wide range and is especially associated with fallen Ash Fraxinus sp (Fr. Frêne) trees or branches.

Dissected to show the concentric rings.

It gets its scientific specific name because of the concentric growth layers, each representing a reproductive season and easily visible if you cut a specimen in half. It seems to be a fungus which copes well with dry situations and less well with too much moisture. It competes vigorously with mosses and algaes in its vicinity to take a large share of the nutrients available from the process of decomposing wood and produces chemicals to eliminate its rivals. It is also one of the fungi that can be used as tinder, smouldering with a distinctive odour and requiring careful attention to keep ignited.


  1. Well, I didn't now that one! And I agree with Ken about tourteau fromager du Poitou, a most unattractive (and I think rather unappetizing) culinary speciality.

  2. From now on Cramp Balls will always be known to a select few as ' tourteau fromager'.... expensive novelties foisted upon the public by a King Alfred of bakers.
    And Susan I sent you a Facebook link to a rather wonderful Cramp Ball feeding weevil.

  3. Try a tourteau fromager made by a proper baker rather than one from a supermarket. They have a delicate taste which needs good ingredients and careful baking.

    1. Most of the commentors above would have tried the tourteau fromager from Loches market. I'm afraid that although they have a lovely soft spongey texture, the flavour is neither one thing or the other and I don't get them. I don't mind the black exterior, and the interior is not inedible by any means, but flavour wise they are not interesting enough to even become an acquired taste.

    2. Need to go to Deux Sevres, then...

    3. Possibly. It's true they are not really a delicacy local to here.