It’s October and I am at the start of my third year being properly interested in fungi and starting to get a bit more confident about being able to identify some – more than ten with confidence, more than 40 with some hedging of bets but reasonable confidence, kind of thing. I am utterly lucky to know people that are prepared to go walking with me and put up with the abrupt stops and the sight of me lying in the moss and twigs with probably waaaay more insects than I would ever be truly comfortable knowing about. Over the next while I think I’m going to start cataloguing “mushrooms I have come to know” here, as much to consolidate my own knowledge as anything else.
The first foraged mushroom that wasn’t a standard field mushroom or puffball that I’m utterly happy to try eating is a hedgehog mushroom. These are very distinctive and cute mushrooms, also known as wood urchins, sweet tooth or pied du mouton. To me they look like misshapen but perfectly toasted marshmallows on top and have the very distinctive little spines underneath that give them their name.
|Season||Late August to Oct, very early November if lucky|
|Cap||Often lumpy with uneven lobes, but largely convex (rounded). Cream, toasted yellow or pale pink/salmon sort of tones. Terracota hedgehogs (Hydnum rufescens) are the same sort of shape but are more red/orange in colour.|
|Underside||spines – in the ordinary hedgehog these are off white tending to pinkish and run part way down the stem, in terracotta hedgehog they are offwhite or pinkish and do not run down the spine|
|Stem||off white with similar colours to the cap possibly streaking|
|Spores||White (but I didn’t do a spore print so I don’t have a photo)|
|Edibility||Yes, both Hydnum repandum and rufescens are, and delicious; sweetly nutty with a great firm texture. Really good.|
Drew, the author of Commonplace – an excellent newsletter about all things food – is one of the people who still likes to go walking with me, and he wrote up his adventures with the hedgehog mushroom, amoungst other things, here: https://commonplacebook.substack.com/p/commonplace-vol-1-issue-11
One of my other interests is Medieval recreation, and cooking has been a big part of that. I have tried a couple of mushroom recipes from various sources but always using the plain old white mushroom safely bought from a bog standard supermarket. It occurred to me that mushrooms like the hedgehog would be amazing in some medieval dishes I’ve previously tried, certainly in mushroom tarts.
XCVIII – Tart of mushrooms good and most perfect. If you want to make tarts of fungi middling, take the mushrooms whole peeled and well washed, make morsels large and squeeze out all the water and take salted lard melted and strained and but to fry with the mushrooms and enough water that they don’t burn (scorch) and when they are just cooked, pull them out in a basin and mix with them a quantity of cheese and of eggs and put this batter in a testo (covered pan) with a crust very thin that is very strong but must be thin and yellow and powder with spices and enough of mushrooms and little of eggs and make it cook wells.Libro di cucina / Libro per cuoco (Italy, 14th/15th c. – Louise Smithson, trans.)
So now I kind of have to go restock on hedgehog mushrooms and try it out. Hedgehog mushrooms would not require water added, they produce an astonishing amount of juice themselves and would give a great texture in with other more usual mushroom varieties.
Also on a culinary note I am reliably informed by at least half the mushroom foragers on the internet that many cooks rub the spines off the hedgehogs before cooking them, because they find them unsightly. I can’t say I minded and left them as they were.
Where to find them: In a lot of different types of woodland. My go to place for them is a pine forest but a friend has found them in a beech forest as well. In my experience it is easier to find them in leaf litter in the wood nearish to where there is a lighter glade or opening close by. Once your eye knows what you’re looking for they become quite easy to recognise, even at a bit of a distance. They attempt to grow in a circle, but I’ve only found partial circles so far.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT FUNGI
PLEASE, please, please do not eat any wild mushroom you are not 100% happy you have identified correctly. Please use more than one source if you are attempting to identify anything, and always, always err on the side of caution. Some wild mushrooms are deadly in the very worst and most lingering, painful sorts of ways. I am interested in this subject and have been studying things quite intently for some time but I am still not prepared to definitively identify a large number of the fungi I find, much less eat any. Never base an identification from one photograph alone, fungi are incredibly diverse and very often look very different even from others of the same type in the same patch of fungi.