The Spiky Allure of Hedgehog Mushrooms
The hedgehog mushroom (hydnum repandum) is one of my favourite wild mushrooms. It is super easy to identify, the spiky underside making it virtually impossible to mistake for something else, and is therefore an excellent beginner’s mushroom. It is also an attractive dusky pale pink colour which, very helpfully, makes it stand out dramatically against the leafy browns of autumn.
One of the very best things about this mushroom is it is highly resistant to the bane of a (vegetarian) mushroom hunter’s life – maggots. I wrestle constantly with these wiggly little things. I know other mushroom hunters are somewhat less reluctant to eat a few in the name of tasty free food, but I cannot bear it. Cutting through them as you prepare the mushrooms is even worse. So it is a great relief and delight to find this common edible is wonderfully reluctant to host them, even when old.
Which brings me onto another of this mushroom’s numerous merits. Even old specimens are good to eat. And old also means large. So it is not rare to find patches of large weighty mushrooms just waiting to be popped into your basket.
And so to cooking this delicious mushroom with its lovely firm flesh. Firstly, the spines should be removed before cooking. Now I will confess that the first time I cooked these mushrooms I did not remove the spines and don’t recall anything untoward happening, but I am assured that you should indeed remove them to prevent your food being scattered with hundreds of unattractive floppy bits – particularly with older mushrooms, which have longer spikes. They are easily removed by pushing your thumb between the flesh and the spines, then rising the remainder off with water.
Both the cap and stem are similarly textured and should be chopped into pieces for cooking. I usually cut them into pieces about 10-15mm square, but do as you see fit. One way I prepare them is to sauté them in a little butter or oil over a high heat. The high heat will help evaporate the water they will release and avoid them stewing in their juices. This will enable you to lightly brown them when the water has evaporated which I think improves the flavour. If you would like to flavour them with garlic, and I can well understand why you might, I would cook this separately, very gently, in a little more butter. For mushrooms, garlic needs its remarkably complementary flavour coaxed out of it slowly, something not compatible with a high heat sauté. I do have another way of cooking mushrooms – my go to method – but I will save that for another post.
I have included below the key characteristics of hedgehog mushrooms to get you started. These are not the only characteristics of these mushrooms, but they are the ones I have found most useful. When foraging for mushrooms, you should always take great care to be sure of what you are eating. This could involve going out with an expert guide or could be achieved by consulting several reference books – always more than one book – and examining the mushrooms meticulously yourself. I never eat a mushroom that I am not absolutely sure about. I have discarded many mushrooms because one minor characteristic did not match or because I didn’t feel completely able to visualise the description in the book for accurate comparison. It is always better to be safe than sorry. There will be other mushrooms.
- the most distinctive feature of this mushroom is its spiky underside – spines instead of gills or tubes, 2-6mm long
- the cap is 3-17cm wide, wavy and irregular, and feel velvety, sometimes suede-like, to the touch
- the colour of the entire mushroom – the cap, spikes and stem – are creamy, buff and pinkish
- it is found in deciduous or coniferous woods, between late summer and late autumn
- the flesh is firm and solid, maggot-free
NOTE: These identifying characteristics are specific to the UK only. Most likely, the characteristics of hedgehog mushrooms found in other countries will be similar, but there could also be differences I am not aware of, or other potentially look-a-like mushrooms that are not found in the UK.
To see or buy my favourite beginner’s mushroom book, River Cottage Handbook No. 1 by John Wright, click here. To see a detailed post describing my favourite mushroom identification books, websites and apps, click here.