Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dryad's Saddle, Pheasant Back, Cerioporus squamosus

Dryad's saddle, sliced into discs, coated with egg and panko, and deep fried

Another edible spring mushroom is a white rotter of hardwoods: the dryad's saddle (since it looks a bit like a seat or saddle for some woodland fairy or nymph), pheasant back (because the cap looks like the feathers of a pheasant), or Cerioporus squamosus--while in older publications you'll find it as Polyporus squamosus. It can be both mildly parasitic on live trees and saprobic on dead trees, and we find them often on maples that are part of old stone walls all over our New England fields and forests. The fruit bodies are annuals, but may sometimes persist for many months before drying up. When the weather cools down again in autumn, dryad's saddle may fruit again. They often appear for many years on the same tree.

Pig's nose stage of growth

As a polypore, there are many pores on the underside of each cap that start out small and crowded but expand as the cap grows; if the pores are still small they can be left intact, but on larger ones they can be scraped off. The tops of the caps have some tufts of fibers that are arranged in concentric circles and give the feathery appearance; on larger specimens we peel off the cap skin before consuming. We prefer to pick them in their "pig's nose" stage when the flesh is very tender, as they soon toughen up and become inedible. It's best to go by texture when collecting for the table, as sometimes even larger specimens are still tender along the edges; as long as a knife passes easily through the flesh, it is still good to eat. Several people suggest using older specimens in soup broth for flavoring.

A small Gillian holding a large drad's saddle

The flavor is very mild and nutty, which is interesting because the fresh dryad's saddle is strongly watermelon rind or cucumber scented. They pickle well once boiled, and are great added to stir fries. If you use the smaller pig's noses, you can slice off some pretty consistent discs to coat with crumbs and deep fry, making a crunchy snack once dipped into some homemade yellow tomato sauce. The fried discs can also be topped with the sauce and some fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan then served over pasta to make some "Dryad's Parmesan" casserole for dinner. Since we often find the dryad's saddle while out hunting morels during our first camping trips of the year, they get fried up over the campfire for a smoky, crispy treat. Because of their mild flavor and firm flesh, they are very versatile in many dishes and preparations.

Dryad's saddle cooked over the campfire

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