Dry Saddle for the nymph! Dryads Saddle

Well – it’s been the driest spring we’ve had since records began! That probably explains why I haven’t had much luck in finding some good edible spring mushrooms up for offer! But I did stumble across some large edible beauties today – unfortunately I found them too late. They were past their prime and had dried out quite a bit due to old age and the dry weather. Curses!

Large Polypore mushroomEven in this condition, they were still good examples of Dryads Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus / Polyporus squamosus) – a polypore mushroom which can grow quite large indeed as you can see from the photos. All polypores (bracket fungus growing on trees) have ‘pores’ instead of gills where the spores disperse from.

This species is a parasite (and/or Saprotroph which feeds off decaying matter) on deciduous trees such as elm, beech and sycamore causing severe ‘white rot’. They burst into life in late spring/early summer and can be found on stumps as well as living trees (often 10-15ft up the trunk) growing in layered clusters (sometimes singularly). Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking as the texture and taste of the older flesh is unappetising. (See a great simple Dryads Saddle recipe here.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm across and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern across the ochre-yellow cap, the flesh of which is relatively thin. As shown in these pictures, once past it’s prime, the mushroom soon deteriorates, becoming very dry (especially helped along by this hot weather!) and infested with insects! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group like this.

There are many old folklore stories behind mushrooms describing how they acquired their common names (sometimes several stories from several countries), and this one does not disappoint in originality. The ‘Saddle’ element derives from the shape of the cap which can sometimes resemble a horses saddle. The word Dryad means ‘Tree nymph’ in Greek mythology. I find myself imagining what the Dryads horse looks like!

Cerioporus squamosus

Drying up! Once past their prime, These polypores soon dry up and waste away. How the mighty have fallen!

In contrast to these older specimens, take a look at this very young specimen I found only a few weeks later. This little beauty is only 2 inches long. I left it to grow and I’m guessing it won’t grow that large anyway due to the fact there were older, dying fruit bodies near by – around 4-6 inches in size.

Dryads Saddle - Young

A young Dryads Saddle.

See the extra ID notes below in helping identify this fine mushroom, notably how the stem is blackish towards the base. Hope you find some too soon, this is the season…

ID Notes - Dryads Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related: Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual

Winter’s bounty – Velvet Shank

It’s been cold this Winter – Damn cold! And there are few pickings out there for the mushroom hunter during any winter. But hold the phone, do not despair. There’s always some foraging delights to be had.

Velvet Shank MushroomThe Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) is quite a common mushroom who’s fruiting season is mainly from September to March. It can resist the winter frosts and low temperatures, even continuing to survive after being frozen solid. Quite a trooper!

These beauties are usually found in medium to large ‘tufted’ clusters on dead or decaying wood, favouring elm and oak. Their caps are a striking orange-brown colour (much lighter at the edges) and is quite shiny with a distinctly sticky/tacky surface texture.

Normally I wouldn’t touch any mushroom or toadstool that falls into the ‘small brown mushroom’ category! Even though Velvet Shank isn’t exactly small (3 – 10cm cap diametre) my instincts at any other time of the year would tell me to avoid as some small brown species are quite nasty! But in this case, and at this time of the year (January to be specific) there is no fear of mistaking it with much else.

The defining factor in identification of this mushroom lies in the examination of the stem. As the common name suggests, it’s ‘shank’ or stem has a smooth (and strangely satisfying) velvety feel, and the colour is a very dark brown/black – lighter at the top (closer to the cap) and darker at the base. Other identification factors regarding the tough stem is the lack of any ring, and when cut in half horizontally, it will show different coloured, thick layers with a small central hollow (see the picture below). If you’re still not sure, take a spore print. It will show up white.

After collecting a few of these, I’ve decided to dry them out and then make a powder from them for later use (or maybe slow cook them to add to a Chinese dish). I’ve heard that this is what they are best used for. You can cook them but they lack any real flavour. The caps are best chopped into strips and added to soups. The Japanese can’t get enough of them and cultivate a form of the Velvet Shank in high quantities, commercially known as Enoki-take.

Velvet Shank - Cap and Stem

Notice the dark coloured ‘velvety’ stem, sticky cap, gills and cut stem pattern

Identification table for Velvet Shank