By: Blonde Two
Poor old King Alfred. He didn’t get to eat the cakes because he burnt them and he probably wouldn’t want to eat the fungus named after them either. King Alfred’s cakes or Daldinia concentrica would, however, have been very useful to him if he had been trying to light a fire.
King Alfred’s cakes are not the most attractive of fungus, when they are mature they resembling round black blobs of (sorry Alfred) burnt cake. It would be easy to pass these slug-like morsels by on your woodland walk but they are far more useful than say, the much prettier fly agaric whose only advantages are a hallucination inducing tea (definitely not recommended) and the provision of a pretty perch for fairies (or pixies if you are Dartmoor). The usefulness of a King Alfred’s cake comes from its ability to (once dried) catch a spark and stay alight long enough to light small pieces of kindling.
When I eventually decided to use mine for firelighting purposes it had turned the required black long ago and was on the verge of becoming a permanent part of my camping box. It must, in fact, have been the most well-travelled King Alfred’s cake in history because it was found in Malvern by Gullet Quarry (where I didn’t swim), came home with us to Devon, was taken back to Malvern for a family camping trip, came home with us again to Devon and was then smuggled into Norway (I am not sure if this counts as smuggling, any excuse to ask Mr Poldark) up to the Northern Cape and home again.
I have to say that when Six-Foot-Blonde and I did decide to light a rather mundane garden fire for his popcorn the other day, the King Alfred’s cake performed very well indeed. It lit straight away (I cheated and used a lighter) and immediately became a lightly glowing ball. It took Six-Foot some blowing effort to achieve further ignition with some wood chippings (the bark of an Acer Griseum didn’t work too well) but the Daldinia concentrica held its glow for a long time and eventually did the job very well. By dint of some modern, technological wizzardry, I have captured the occasion on film for you!