Hedgehog mushrooms come in several varieties, but from my point of view they’re all lovely. Without question, Hedgehogs are amongst my favorite edible mushrooms. What they lack in distinct flavor they more than make up for in texture; robust and somewhat crunchy and chewy, Hedgehog mushrooms have enough substance to be cooked vigorously without losing their meatiness. And this is not to suggest that flavor is absent in Hedgehog mushrooms. They are mild-tasting, but have a pleasing fresh mushroom flavor with hints of their own special something that’s a little difficult to describe, but very tasty.
Characteristics of Hedgehog Mushrooms
Some Hedgehog mushrooms are as large as porterhouse steaks, and others are the size of bay scallops. One way or the other, hedgehogs mushrooms are an excellent choice for people who are interested in hunting (and eating) wild mushrooms. Hedgehogs are pretty darn distinct from other mushrooms, for one thing. They are toothed fungi, which means that the fertile tissue on the bottom of the mushroom (where the spores are generated and ultimately expelled into the
mushroom’s habitat) are covered in small spines or teeth. This is a distinctive feature that makes it easy to tell a hedgehog from, say, Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap mushroom.
In fact, Hedgehog mushrooms do not have any known poisonous look-alikes, and their hardy flesh is not terribly prone to rot, and so poisonings caused by mushroom hunters eating spoiled Hedgehog mushrooms are (at least to me and all the mushroom folk I know) unheard of. Even the distinctive chanterelle has a few species that look similar to it, and so this singularity of Hedgehog mushrooms compared to other species makes it an excellent fungus for novice mushroom hunters to identify and eat with confidence.
The most common species of Hedgehog mushroom is called Hydnum rapandum, and it grows in many forests throughout North America. This Hedgehog is mycorrhizal, meaning it grows in association with a plant or tree partner, but as luck would have it, Hedgehog mushrooms do not seem to have trouble forming mycorrhizal bonds in various habitats; I have found them in coastal fir forests, inland lowland deciduous forests, and aspen and spruce forests at very high elevations in the Rocky Mountains.
Another, smaller Hedgehog mushroom is called Hydnum umbilicatum, or the Bellybutton Hedgehog mushroom. It acquired this whimsical name by virtue of the fact that it has a small dimple or depression in the center of the cap that, well, looks like a bellybutton. Hydnum umbilicatum also tends to be a little whiter than Hydnum rapandum, which is downright creamy and tends get orange bruises when it’s cut and handled. Both of these sorts of Hedgehogs are edible, easy to identify, and relatively common.
Hedgehog mushrooms are often found in the exact same habitats as chanterelles, both on the East and West coasts. They favor small brush such as wild grape and scuppernong, as well as huckleberry and silal. I am sure there are many other small shrubs and ground cover plants that are inviting to Hedgehog mushrooms, but the aforementioned plants are the ones I have personal experience with. The only trouble with this lush and dense undergrowth being ideal for Hedgehog mushrooms is that occasionally it’s hard to see and retrieve the mushrooms when they’re buried in a thick carpet of vegetation.
The first time I found Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum rapandum), a huge cluster of Hedgehogs were intertwined with two Pacific Northwest Golden Chanterelles. It was an amazing find and I filled my basket to the brim. At the time that I spotted the Hedgehog/Chanterelle patch, I thought that the Hedgehogs were in fact sun- or rain-bleached chanterelles.
Another appealing aspect of Hedgehog mushrooms is their resistance to rot and bugs. Most mushrooms necrotize (go bad) quickly, and so some mushroom hunting experiences are marked by distinct disappointment when one finds a great mushroom, only to discover that it’s turned all squishy and fishy. Furthermore, many mushrooms are prone to fly maggots; fungus and other flies treat boletes, for instance, like incubation chambers for their eggs, and so it is extremely common to find great-looking mushrooms that are a horrid warren of wormholes and maggots.
Hedgehog mushrooms, however, are firm and substantial enough to resist spoiling quickly, and for whatever reason they are not very appealing to insects. These traits make the discovery-edibility ratio of Hedgehog mushrooms pretty attractive. The drawback of the Hedgehog’s firm flesh, however, is that it is a lousy mushroom for the dehydrator. If you do find an abundance of Hedgehog mushrooms, your options for preservation are limited, because if they’re dried they simply do not reconstitute well; they basically are so stringy and tough after drying that it’s nearly impossible to save them from eating like leather boots.
Since Hedgehog mushrooms are difficult to dry, the best method for preserving them is to saute them with minimal oil, and then freezing them in single layers. Once thawed out, they retain their crunch and chew, which really is the Hedgehog mushroom’s greatest virtue.
Hedgehog mushrooms need to be cooked thoroughly, and they do extremely well when sauteed and then added to baked dishes. The saute both partially cooks the mushroom and seals its minimal moisture inside the mushroom. However, they can easily be added to dishes that are entirely stir-fried, they just need to be added to the mix early.
The only challenge in cooking Hedgehog mushrooms is dealing with their teeth. Toothed fungi have a profusion of small, spiny bits on their fertile tissue that readily flake off when handled and cooked. The trouble with this is that if you use a very hot pan, the teeth can burn while the rest of the mushroom is not yet ready to be removed from the heat. To minimize the annoyance of burned mushroom teeth in your dinner, use moderate (medium-high) heat and make sure that you move the teeth around. Some people just cut the teeth off before putting the mushroom into a dish, but I like the teeth myself (they tend to add a little crispy-flaky to the food, and I like that). I simply don’t think it’s necessary to cut them off unless you’ve got some very picky gourmonds on your hands.
On the whole, Hedgehog mushrooms are fun to find because they live in pretty habitats. Coupled with the ease in identifying and preparing them for the table, I rate Hedgehog mushrooms are the best species for novice mushroom hunters. This is not to say that they’re inappropriate for seasoned mushroom hunters; to be honest, I’ve never met a mushroomer who didn’t delight in finding these attractive and tasty fungi