This section is from the book "Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them", by W. Hamilton Gibson. Also available from Amazon: Our Edible Toadstools And Mushrooms And How To Distinguish Them.
While driving through the White Mountain Notch, many years ago, I chanced upon a mass of cream-colored, fringy fungus growing upon a fallen beech-log by the side of the road. The fungus was then entirely new to me, and I lost no time in making a sketch of it, with notes. The growth covered a space possibly eighteen inches wide by eight in height, and I estimated it would weigh fully five pounds, its most marked feature being the dense growth of drooping spines. In my limited knowledge of edible fungi at the time, I cautiously left the specimen in the woods, afterwards to learn from Dr. Harkness, the mycologist, that I had "thrown away five pounds of the most delicious fungus meat known to the epicure." I have since found minor specimens many times, and can readily understand the enthusiastic encomiums of my connoisseur friend as to its esculent qualities.
Hydnum caput - medusae
Spines: The long, soft spines cover the entire exposed portion of the fungus, which is disposed in fleshy branching-divisions, each terminating in a "crown" of shorter, drooping teeth. The color is pale buff or dark creamy.
Stem: Short, concealed beneath the growth.
Taste: Sweet and aromatic, slightly pungent.
Habitat: Trunks of trees, especially beech.
Season: July to October.
Plate XXVIII. Hydnum Caput-Medusae.
Plate XXIX. - Hydnum Caput-Medusae
This species (Plate 28) cannot be confounded with any other; it is of a dark creamy color, and usually grows sidewise upon dead beech wood (Plate 29), sometimes in great profusion, especially in the summer. The soft spines entirely cover the rounded branching protuberances of the fungus. The upper teeth are short and form a sort of "crown," falling from which the more and more elongated spines are firmly pendent beneath, somewhat suggesting as many heads of tiny skye-terriers in crowded convocation - or a tiny bleached "hedgehog," if you choose.
A fungus bearing such conspicuous characteristics may be gathered and eaten without fear, assuming the specimen to be fresh and free from grubs. It will be found an aromatic and savory morsel, though simply fried in butter and served on toast.
One other species may be mentioned briefly, the Hydnum coralloides, or Moss-mushroom, which is unfamiliar to the writer, but which Curtis includes among his edible fungi. It may be found growing sidewise "on old trunks of living trees," at first white, then yellowish, resembling when young the chou-fleur (cauliflower). From its base, which is tender and fleshy, spring a large number of flexible branches, interlaced and assembled in tufts, bearing upon the summit of each of their divisions an expansion of long points or projections, at first straight, then pendent, and even curved under, and terminating in layers. Cordier says that it is "delicate food."
Professor Peck speaks enthusiastically of this species. "It is found in woods, especially in hilly and mountainous districts, and occurs during rainy or showery weather from August to October. It is a pretty fungus, and very attractive to those who are neither botanists nor fungus eaters, and it is as good as it is beautiful. In our botanical expeditions in the vast wilderness of the Adirondack region, we were often obliged to camp in the woods several nights in succession. On such occasions this fungus sometimes formed a luxurious addition to our ordinarily simple and sometimes limited bill of fare."
The Hydnei may be cooked in the same manner as employed for the ordinary mushroom, or gathered and dried for winter use, a very common custom on the Continent. Owing to the somewhat firm, compact substance of these mushrooms they should be cooked slowly, in order to preserve their tenderness. Berkeley recommends that they be "previously" steeped in hot water. Badham especially favors the Hydnum stew, which he claims is "an excellent dish with a flavor of oysters."According to the same authority it yields also a "very good puree."The "oyster" flavor is recognized in many of the epicurean encomiums on this species. Various hints as to its culinary treatment will be found in a later chapter.