Let’s be clear. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m suggesting you go out and pick yourself a bunch of wild mushrooms, compare them to photos of mushrooms I have posted as edibles, and eat them. Here’s the thing. It isn’t too difficult to learn to identify a handful of mushrooms you can eat. The problem is that in some cases the consequences of making a mistake are really big. I am very careful about eating any mushrooms and I’m urging all my readers to be equally careful. Don’t eat any mushrooms unless you’re sure they aren’t going to do you in. Some mushrooms which are known to be good and tasty edibles cause bad reactions in some people, so the rule I’m advocating here is that should you decide to eat a wild mushroom, after identifying the mushroom as a safe edible to 100% certainty, the first time you consume a particular variety, cook up just a bit and see how you do with it before preparing that feast.
I don’t want anybody lying in a hospital bed wretching because they found mushrooms that looked like pictures I posted and cooked them up for lunch. Nuff said on that.
The photo above shows a group of mushrooms I collected for dinner. There are two types here. One is a lactarius, or milk cap. They’re called milk caps because they are reputed to exude a liquid should you break the cap. In fact, they don’t always do so. These ones all exuded a bright orange liquid. Let’s just say that I was confident that these particular ones were an edible lacterius. I’m pretty sure they are Lacterius thyinos. There is a Russula that looks like this mushroom that doesn’t exude juice. According to Michael Kuo’s 100 Edible Mushrooms, it smells like bad maraschino cherries. The mushrooms I picked didn’t stain green like the Lactarius deliciosus (also edible). Kuo also points to other small orange Lacterius that smell like burned sugar, maple syrup or curry, and he cautions readers to avoid those. Let’s just say I was correct with my identification (at least I can say there were no adverse physical affects when I cooked and ate them).
The other smaller mushrooms in the photo I identified as Hydnum umbilicatum, one of the two varieties of what are commonly called Hedgehog mushrooms. You can see that these mushrooms have teeth. You can also see in one of the little mushrooms in the photo, a crater in the top of the cap. In this case, I’ve collected hedgehogs a few times and I was pretty certain of what I had. The other hedgehog, Hydnum repandum, is bigger and stockier and has a stem that is usually off-centre, and the colour seems to be generally paler. Here is what that one looks like:
In general, you could say that both types are toothed mushrooms with a more or less tan colour. I don’t think I can tell the difference in taste, except to say that with the bigger ones, smaller specimens are better because the teeth pretty much disappear. I read somewhere that older specimens can be bitter but I haven’t tasted a hedgehog that is anything but delicious. I think it is fair to compare them to chanterelles in terms of texture and flavour. If somebody asked me what I collected, I would likely just say hedgehogs and not make the distinction, unless I was talking to someone who would know there are two.
Here’s what I did for dinner one night while I was away (again, don’t try this at home because you read it here….take the trouble to learn what you’re doing).
First I cleaned up the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Both varieties tend to come bug free, so almost everything I had was usuable. I discarded the stems from a couple of the lactarius because they were not perfect.
My cabin came with a propane bbq, so I started that up. I brought along a cooked ham steak and I tossed that on the grill for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, I chopped some shallots. Shallots love mushrooms and it happens that my brother Salvelinas grows the most amazing shallots and recently laid some of those babies on me. I started them going in the only fry pan in the cabin and after a couple minutes added the mushrooms. I brought along some creole spice so I added a little of that…not too much. I didn’t want to overwhelm the delicate mushrooms, but rather enhance their flavour. The lactarius retain their colour when you cook with them. After a while, an orange sauce appeared in the pan. While the mushrooms and shallots cooked, I chopped up the ham steak into chunks, and when the mushrooms were just about ready, I tossed the ham in with the mushrooms and tossed it all around and let the sauce cook down for a minute.
It was a must excellent supper. For the vegetarians in the crowd, you could simply eliminate the ham or consider adding another vegetable. A green pepper would be good and so would a zucchini, whatever you like.