Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hedgehog (Hericium erinaceus)

I walk the little two mile trail in the park about three days a week. Lately, I've been tracking the maturity of a whole suite of interesting mushrooms growing on the downed oaks, hickories and maples. Today, I discovered a newly fallen tree across the trail, a mighty swamp chestnut oak, covered in these giant (one foot across!), shaggy mushrooms.

Hedgehog mushrooms (also called Bearded Tooth and Bear's Head mushrooms) grow on wounded oaks and dead beech and maple trees east of the Rockies. They are most commonly found in the South and are one of the few edible mushrooms that has no poisonous look-alikes. As usual, when I discovered the hedgehog mushroom, it had already turned yellow, the sign of old age. The mushroom had matured past the prime harvest time. Hedgehogs should be harvested when solid white so as to avoid any bitter aftertaste. Used in Japanese and Chinese medicine and cooking, hedgehog mushrooms pack a powerful antioxidant punch and have been used to regulate blood lipid and glucose levels.

H. erinaceus is the only North American species that forms a single clump of spines. Other species of Hericium mushrooms suspend their spines from branching structures. However, when immature, other species can appear to have only one clump of spines. If wanting to harvest the mushroom, it doesn't matter which species you've found, whether the immature branching one or the single clump species, because all members of the genus are edible.

Mycologists claim that hedgehog mushrooms taste like lobster. They recommend eating them with a cheese-butter sauce, maybe a béchamel? If I had taken the trail 2 days ago when the hedgehog was at its prime, I could have slipped it surreptitiously into tonight's Choux de Bruxelles à la Milanaise . Instead, I'll watch as the mice make mince of it later this week.

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