( belly button hedgehogs, sweet tooth, spreaders, pied du monton )
Though they lack the elegance of Amanitas or the colorful beauty of chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms more than compensate for this with sheer abundance and cuteness. Hedgehog mushroom's many virtues include its delicious flavor and its easy identification. The two common hedgehogs in this country, Hydnum umbilicatum( belly buttons) and H. repandum are both a creamy white- often with apricot/orange blushes. Its distinctive spiny teeth make its identification one of the easiest of all wild mushrooms. This is a great wild mushroom for beginners. Just as you’d think, the smaller belly button mushroom has a “inny” dimple in the top that looks like a plump babie's navel. The larger sweet tooth hedgehog is often irregular, even “blobby” in shape, and often wraps Siamese-twin style around another neighboring hedgehog. The sweet tooth has larger, longer teeth and often stains a grayish brown when cut.
I love the flavor of hedgehogs. There’s a faint bitter component that seems at home in Mediterranean cuisines. As chanterelles disappear, chefs often replace them with hedgehogs in recipes.
To clean a hedgehog, ideally you begin by tidy harvesting (see Harvesting below). Dirt stuck in the teeth under the cap can be a problem. Either before or after harvest, hold the mushroom by the stem then tap the top of the cap. Particles between the teeth will usually fall out. With the larger sweet tooth hedgehog, you can also just rub the toothy spines off and wash the whole mushroom if you prefer. Hedgehogs tend to be brittle and break into pieces.
It is a mycorrhizal mushroom that reappears around the same trees from year to year. They tend to grow in plentiful arcs around trees. Out here in the West they are most fond of swales with tan oaks, conifers and huckleberry bushes. A couple of my (hedge) hog “wallows” can have easily one to two hundred hedgehog mushrooms popping out of the ground. The stems of both hedgehogs snap easily making harvest with a knife hardly necessary. The base of the stem usually has a knob of dirt with debris attached. Snap or cut this off before putting the mushroom in your basket. A little knife scraping down any dirty stem can make each mushroom cleaner yet. A basket of messily picked hedgehogs is a nightmare to clean.
In the East, they occur from mid-summer through fall. In the West they are a winter mushroom. We are fortunate to have them from December often until March. Shipped from Western forests, hedgehogs are a special treat in Northern stores when the woods there are cold and barren.
Some chefs object to the coconut flake appearance of the detached teeth floating about in their sauces. The poor prep-cooks at The French Laundry tried to remove each and every tooth. That only happened once! But some actually dishes seem to benefit from having little mushroom teeth spread throughout their flavors. Sarah Scott and I chose our three recipes in The Wild Table to do just that. Our Hedgehog Mushroom and Turkey Pot Pie, Hedgehog Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Tart, and Hedgehog, Leek, and Chestnut Stuffing have little mushrooms bits floating lusciously throughout the dish.
I do not find that they dry well. Other folks may have had more luck with this. Like many mushrooms, you can cook them and freeze them in a finished dish, or as a nice container of sautéed hedgehogs. They also make a nice pickle.
Yet another wonderful quality to this mushroom is its long shelf life. Bugs do not haunt them. If you’ve been fortunate enough to find a nice pile of these, you can store them loosely wrapped in your refrigerator for two weeks. Hedgehogs have a very peculiar quality of being able to freeze in the woods in icy weather yet still thaw beautifully. It’s as if they have some mysterious mushroom antifreeze. I have frozen and thawed them successfully for short periods of time.