Any tasty edible mushroom that extended our season by appearing either earlier or later than other mushrooms would be an automatic favorite of ours, but Hedgehogs have a lot of other fine qualities going for them, too. For one thing, they’re very common, relatively easy to find and predictable in their chosen habitats. Moreover, they usually come back to the same spots, year after year (although being too greedy and picking every last one isn't recommended). They’re hardy, even withstanding light freezes (which mean the end of the season for many other mushrooms). They’re absolutely goof-proof - unmistakable for anything else - another plus (and ideal for beginners!). They’re tasty, very much like Chantrelles (which is a good thing to be “like!”). And they are beautiful, their tan to apricot color sometimes appearing to almost glow from within in certain light, particularly light fog. So, what’s not to like?
Hedgehogs can vary greatly in size.
Well, there are a couple of small niggles. Hedgehogs are generally pretty small – 1 to 2-1/2” diameter caps are about normal, although we have found individuals up to nearly 5” – so they take a little longer than, say, Chanterelles, to gather a satisfactory basketful. Larger specimens, incidentally, are sometimes called “Sweet Tooths” around here, although we haven’t heard them called that elsewhere. Hedgehogs have an affinity for Rhododendrons, and that can mean crawling on hands and knees through a thicket of Rhodies to gather them – not my favorite way to gather mushrooms, but sometimes a necessary evil. Lastly, they are more difficult to clean than a lot of mushrooms. Getting debris in the tiny teeth that cover the underside of the cap where gills would normally be can be frustrating, but this almost always happens in your basket, not naturally. The stems, however, are another matter; any part of the base of the stem that comes in contact with the soil almost invariably absorbs some of it in the outer layer, and it clings tenaciously; forget washing or brushing it off. Yet, there is a fair amount of meat in the base, and if you are as averse to unnecessary waste in mushrooming as we are, simply cutting off the base isn’t always acceptable, either; our solution – time-consuming, but it works – is to trim this dirty area off the larger mushrooms with a knife, something like sharpening a pencil. Normally we do this in the field, and (although we're not sure this helps future fruitings) stuff the trimmings back into the hole they came from. Call us crazy, but it's unwise to anger the mushroom gods.
Hedgehogs have "teeth" on the underside of the cap rather than gills.
In Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, we would normally expect to start finding hedgehogs in mid to late October, and continue to find them for at least a month, often well into December if it didn’t get too cold for too long. On the Southern Oregon coast, they’re later, like everything else; we usually start seeing them in early November and often find them well into February (a Super Bowl Sunday Hedgehog Foray is a time-honored tradition in our house!). There is always some overlap between the end of Golden Chanterelle season, and the start of Hedgehogs, and indeed at first glance, you might mistake Hedgehogs for Chanterelles. On closer observation, though, you’ll see a subtle difference, as the Hedgehogs are somewhat paler and occasionally vary to a cinnamon tint. Turn them over and there can be no doubt; the teeth are a dead give-away.
This picture shows the variety of sizes and shapes
that hedgehogs come in.
There are actually two Hedgehogs, according to the literature. Hydnum repandum is described as 2 to 4” wide and first rounded, then irregular; Hydnum umbiculatum is described as smaller and more slender, and with a sunken cap center. Among ourselves, we don’t differentiate between them, but based on our experience we don’t think that the “sunken cap center” attributed to the H. umbiculatum is by any means universal; we believe some have it, some don’t. It could be argued that the ones without the sunken cap center are less mature specimens of H. repandum, and that’s possible, but beyond our ability to discern. The bottom line is that they are both lovely, tasty mushrooms, always welcome on our table, and they help us to keep mushrooming long after most other good edibles are all done for the year. So, like we said: what’s not to like?