Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Eating Hedgehogs and Black Trumpets
Have you ever eaten a hedgehog or a black trumpet? If you’re a mychophagist, you’re either nodding your head yes with excitement, or shaking it forlornly and planning your next foray to find some. Hedgehogs and black trumpets are not spiny mammals or tarnished musical instruments; they are tasty fungi that are fruiting right now!
Recently, Britt Bunyard, PhD, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of FUNGI magazine, came to explore the Northwoods from his home near Milwaukee. His main goal was to assess the wonderful woods and trails in our area for their fungal diversity and ease of access. In the next couple years, Britt will be organizing a national mushroom foray right here in Cable, WI!
During his visit, Britt gave a lecture and led a mushroom foray for the Museum. They were both fun and fascinating. Then Britt and I ventured off on our own to explore an old trail through a mixed forest with lots of maples, oaks, and eastern hemlocks.
Wind-blown sticks, branches, and whole trees across the trail impeded our hiking speed, but no more than our constant search for mushrooms in the surrounding woods. The Pepto Bismol pink of Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, the pristine white pillars of Destroying Angles, and the chartreuse caps on Man-on-Horseback all caught our eyes easily.
As Britt stepped off the trail to photograph some particularly nice Destroying Angels (a deadly white type of Amanita mushroom), he plucked a nondescript little creamy-tan colored mushroom and handed it to me with a twinkle in his eye. “You know this one, right?” he asked. Flipping it over, I expected to see the radiating gills present on many common mushrooms. Instead, a mess of little off-white teeth hung down from the cap.
“Hedgehog!” I exclaimed. This was one of the first wild mushrooms I ate, after foraging with mycophiles in Northern California. The little spines make hedgehogs easy to identify, and with no harmful look-alikes, it is generally a safe one for even beginning mychophagists to collect. And the best part is that they have a nice, tender texture and a mild flavor with peppery notes. Another advantage is that they are unlikely to be infested with maggots and seem not to attract many bugs.
Hedgehog mushrooms can be small or large (there are two species), and from above they look pretty nondescript. The light tan colored caps with a slight dimple or “belly button” in the centers grow scattered under the trees in mixed forests all across the northern temperate zone. Hedgehogs are found in North America, Europe, northern Asia, and even Australia. In this particular forest, they fairly glowed against the dark layer of old needles on the ground in the dim light under a thick hemlock/oak grove.
With a paper bag carrying the freshest fungi in the patch, we meandered farther down the trail.
Talking, moving branches, and shuffling through dead brown leaves, we almost missed the next bonanza. Then, right in front of the toe of Britt’s boot, appeared a cluster of little black holes. He paused. A second glance brought in to focus a well-camouflaged cluster of black trumpets.
These small, black and gray vase-shaped fungi with thin, brittle flesh look nothing like our stereotype of mushrooms. Happily, like with the uniquely toothed hedgehogs, the black trumpet’s distinct appearance makes identification easy. The smoky, rich flavor and lack of poisonous lookalikes make them one of my favorite mushrooms to find. According to Britt, who has eaten many mushrooms, these are best dried and added to foods like soups or risottos.
People often debate about the nutritional value of mushrooms. They are mostly water and air, but do contain essential amino acids, fatty acids, and “trace minerals.” I think their biggest value is in their flavor, and in the excitement of discovery. Trees, however, receive significant “nutritional value” from their relationships with specific fungi.
Just looking at the hedgehogs and trumpets in our little wax-paper gathering pouches, I would never guess that these two weirdoes are related. But, they are both in the order Cantharellales with other choice edibles like the golden chanterelle. Besides being tasty, they also share the trait of forming mutualistic symbiotic relationships with trees.
Tree roots exude certain chemicals into the rhizosphere (the space around the roots), and these seem to attract fungal hyphae. Through an incredible chemical communication system that can alter the way certain genes are expressed in each organism, the fungi and the tree enter into a dance that facilitates one of the most important relationships on Earth.
The fungus grows a layer of hyphae around the tiny roots, and even in between the cells of the roots. Then, the fungus stretches its network of hyphae out into the soil, and aids the tree in acquiring water and nutrients, especially nitrogen. Overall, a tree may receive up to 86% of the nitrogen it needs from its fungal partners. In return, the tree roots feed the fungus with the sugars produced during photosynthesis. The fungus may receive up to 15% of the tree’s net primary production in “payment” for their services.
Later that evening, as Britt and I chatted about the day, the hedgehogs steamed in their own juices, and the trumpets hummed in the dehydrator, I spent a moment being thankful for all the interconnections and relationships that make my life possible. The trees and the fungi feed each other, the fungi feed me, and friends make finding and eating them all the more fun (And safer, too! Always consult with an expert before eating wild mushrooms!)
Mary Oliver, of course, also makes eating mushrooms more pleasurable with her words:
“In fall it is mushrooms gathered from dampness under the pines…how calmly, as though it were an ordinary thing, we eat the blessed earth.” –from Beans Green and Yellow.
For over 45 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! The current exhibit, “Nature’s Superheroes—Adventures with Adaptations,” opens in May 2014 and will remain open until March 2015.
Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot, http://cablemuseumnaturalconnections.blogspot.com.
Black trumpets may not look like your typical mushroom, but that actually makes this type of chanterelle easy to identify and eat safely. Photo by Britt Bunyard.