By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz -
It’s been a busy year here on Turtle Ridge. And just when we thought all our sowing and harvesting were done, fall arrived with its bounty of wild food just begging to be gathered. So like all creatures preparing for the Great Sleep, Dean and I have been busy squirreling away delicious and nutritious fruits, nuts, and mushrooms for our winter cache.
While out on an early coral mushroom scouting trip, my first big score of the season was not corals, but a gorgeous Bearded Tooth mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). These interesting fungi grow on dead wood. They can be found on stumps near the ground or high up the trunk of a live (but, ultimately) dying tree and can be as small as a fist or as large as serving platter. Other common names for this mushroom are Lion’s Mane, Hedgehog, Bearded Hedgehog, and Satyr’s Beard. (Just in case you’re curious, Satyr is a Greek goat-man-god that hangs around with Pan and Dionysus.)
I was just rising from a crouch when a shaft of sunlight illuminated a white orb in the middle of a grove of thin oak sprouts. Of course, who could resist investigating that? What, with the shaft of light and all… My heart was beating. Could it be?
To make a long story short, I walked away a very happy camper with a large hand-sized mushroom that probably weighed around a pound and a half. This being my first Bearded Tooth, I was surprised by how heavy and how sturdy it was. It appeared to be quite delicate, but inside, it’s as solid and dense as a mushroom gets.
It was also very, very moist. I felt like I was carrying a large wet sponge home, which turned out to be an ironic thought, because I found out that you can actually squeeze water out of this mushroom just like a sponge! Some foragers even suggest that you do just that before sautéing these mushrooms, otherwise you’ll wind up spending a lot of time cooking off the water.
After a brief search, I found that there were two main ways to prepare Bearded Tooth mushrooms. The first is to cut it into thick chunks and ‘fry’ it. The second is to put it on a baking pan and dry-bake it (roast without water or oil) very slowly until the tips of the spines are crispy on the ends.
When I try a mushroom for the first time, I want to know what it tastes like all by itself. My mycologist friends at the Missouri Mycological Society told me that Bearded Tooth mushrooms taste like mild lobster or scallops and that the texture is also very much like scallops, so I decided to cook them like scallops – sautéed in butter and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The baking would have to wait for the next big score.
I cut the large mushroom into scallop-sized chunks, allowing for some shrinkage. I literally squeezed the water out of each chunk before dropping them into a skillet with a pat of butter and a little bit of olive oil. I cooked them slowly (about 15 minutes, total) over medium high heat until both sides were golden brown.
The Bearded Tooth ‘scallops’ were excellent in both flavor and texture straight from the pan. We topped some of them with parmesan cheese – yum! – and served them alongside pan seared loin chops and a salad. Dean and I both agreed that they definitely had a scallop-like texture and flavor and went well with the spicy pork and greens. All in all, we both found them to be very mild-flavored and surprisingly filling.
The only drawback was that the mushroom pieces soaked up the fat from the pan (again, like a sponge!) and when cooled, had a slightly greasy mouth-feel. Next time, I will barely coat the pan with vegetable oil or use a non-stick skillet to get them crispy brown with no fat at all.
As a side dish, Bearded Tooth ‘scallops’ are perfect for dipping in garlic butter or any other tantalizing sauce you can imagine. They’d also be great served over pasta with marinara sauce, or cut thick and grilled to make a killer Bearded Tooth burger with cheese. Vegans and vegetarians should really like this mushroom, as it is definitely dense enough to substitute for meat in many kinds of dishes.
If all my observations as to the spongy nature of Bearded Tooth follows suite, these mushrooms will really absorb any flavor or spice that you cook (or marinate?) them in, so start slow and work into it!
This wonderful world we live in provides us with so much for so little. Get out and find some wild edibles in your neck of the woods before the winter closes us inside for good. And as always, remember to 100% identify any wild plant or mushroom before eating it or feeding it!
© 2013 Jill Henderson – Feel free to share with a link back to this page.
Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one. Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.