Not of course the kind of hedgehog you might be thinking of, that is still on the wish list (it is important not to limit yourself…baked in clay to remove the spines is the prescribed cooking method). This is about my favourite wild mushroom: The hedgehog fungus.
There are a few reasons I like it so much and I think it all stems from the gills of this unique little mushroom. The hedgehog possesses spines instead of gills, which makes it one of easiest mushrooms to identify. My philosophy on gathering mushrooms has always been to look for the most unmistakable characteristics in edible fungi that could not be confused with poisonous cousins (I’m sure I am not the first to apply this method and I wont be the last).
This mushroom grows abundantly in our woodland, some years better than others. Beech, oak, birch, hazel and pine are the sort of mixed woodland to keep an eye out for hedgehogs. I found these particular specimens in an area of open beech forest, it is quite likely that when you go out looking for mushrooms in the woods you WILL come across them.
The main reason they are so good is because they are incredibly tasty and have a firm texture enabling them to stand up to some heavy cooking. They can be used in virtually any dish, great in stews and even better fried in butter and dropped on toast.
As with most wild mushrooms they should not be eaten raw, when raw, hedgehogs are quite bitter, this is removed during cooking. The two things that must be done before using hedgehogs, first remove the spines with the back of a knife (easily done and actually quite gleefully addictive), secondly blanch them in boiling water, with a little salt, for 1 minute. They are then ready to play around with.
These particular hedgehogs were found on an epic day of gathering. I must confess I’m not a huge fan of the word foraging…it sounds similar to grope/feel/ fondle, it is also the latest fashionable fad in the world of “foodies”. Fads come and go but gathering will be around forever! On this particular day, the last blog on Rosehips was also conceived. My little trundle began skirting the boundaries of Kew’s Sussex outpost; Wakehurst Place, home of the millennium seedbank. At first I came across a few wood blewits and common puffballs but not much to write home about.
When I hit the South West facing slope of woodland there was an instant transformation in the volume of edible fungi. I came across a charcoal burning operation in amongst a beech wood and ahead of me lay stacks of hedgehogs in little groups circling the trees. Hedgehogs have a pale cream cap that has a slight orange shade to it and are very irregular in shape. This is where they get their French name ‘Pied de mouton’ from which has something to do with a goat’s footprint.
I felt it would be rude to rinse the wood of all hedgehogs, I took only as many as I needed (an important rule: leave some for others). I still managed to fill half a carrier bag, enough to go with a few meals.
As I walked out into the nearest field and had a good scan about for the possibility of any parasols or puffballs (none!), I noticed a copse of huge Scot’s pine through the woods at the top of the hill…
When looking for fungi, trees are a very good indication of what you may find, the mushroom is the fruit we see of the vegetative ‘plant’ called mycelium, a subterranean web of threads (known individually as hyphae), different types of rotting organic matter suit different fungi. Some fungi have what is known as a mychorrizal (the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of a seed plant) relationship with certain trees. For example Birch boletus will be found around birch trees, Cauliflower fungus with Scot’s pine and larch boletus around the larch. This association is an important factor in finding certain fungi as well as helping with identification.
Wandering through the pines, I kept my eyes rooted to the base of each one, it was only when I looked down the row of trees to see how many there were that I saw a large, creamy football-sized mass nestled at the foot of one of these giant pines 20 metres away. There is a great feeling of elation when coming across a find like this, even more so this time because the next tree had one of equal size! I took just the one, with a view of drying it out for future consumption.
What a day…
This recipe is just for the one tartlet, starter size, so just multiply the ingredients for the amount you wish to make.
- 4 hedgehogs (cap diameter 4cm)
- 2 slices of smoked bacon
- ½ a small red onion
- Puff pastry (5mm thick, 10cm x 10cm)
- A squeeze of lemon
- Sprig of thyme
Preheat the oven to 190C and clean the hedgehogs and blanch for a minute (as mentioned earlier). Fry the bacon and red onion for a few minutes then add the hedgehog for a further 2 minutes till golden and remove from heat.
Lay out the square of puff pastry on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Leaving an outside edge of a 1 ½ cm, prick the middle several times with a fork (this will prevent it rising).
Place the onion, bacon and mushrooms in a pile over the pricked area of the pastry, season with pepper, add the thyme and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the tartlet has risen and the pastry is a rich golden colour. Serve immediately.