Damages from this past week's arctic push haven't been fully assessed yet, but you can be certain that tender greens like spinach and lettuces (already showing higher prices) and the ever-present artichoke harvests are first among the lost.
One wild crop that does do well during the occasionally frosty California winters is mushrooms. The January winter fungal triptych of Black Trumpets, Yellowfoot chanterelles and Hedgehogs have arrived at Clearwater Farms. This year's specimens are showing great quality, says Karl Oldnettle, but the weather has been tricky for them, too. “So far the supply has been a little spotty. Great mushrooms. But not consistently available.”
Of the three big wilds, the Black Trumpet is probably the most woodsy and aromatic, but it has an annoying habit of staining black everything you cook with it. The Yellowfoot, lacking color, lacks that sometimes annoying culinary quirk. And like most other chanterelles, it has a faint aroma of apricots. The Hedgehog is completely different from both.
Most of what you'll find at Clearwater Farms will be the small, quarter-sized Hydnum umbilicatum, or Bellybutton Hedgehog, named for the dimple in the middle of the cap. Larger specimens are classified Hydnum repandum and can grow caps that easily span the palm of your hand. Both types have a dense and meaty flavor, the smaller ones veering more sweet like a chanterelle.
Both Hedgehogs are so named because they lack the spore gills commonly found in other mushroom varieties. Dense clusters of soft and fleshy teeth are packed underneath the Hedgehog cap. It's an interesting texture, but feel them gently. Those velvety teeth will be how you select your Hedgehogs — the better-tasting, younger specimens tend to have firm, erect teeth.
Unlike other wild mushrooms, the Hedgehog does not preserve well when dried. Its best flavor is achieved when cooked fresh, but if you need to hang on to them for a spell, try cooking them lightly and then freezing them. In a well-sealed freezer bag, they should last up to a year. Which is nice since they'll only be around, fickle weather permitting, for another month.
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