Sparassis crispa & spathulata

AKA Cauliflower mushroom

OK beginners wake up and pay attention. Here’s an easy edible that provides a large amount of food and there’s nothing poisonous that even remotely resembles it. While strolling through the open woods keep a close look out for off-white rounded fungi growing at the base of trees. I’ve seen them from softball size to over 30 inches in diameter. These rounded mushrooms are composed of many white to yellowish to buff leaf like fronds that are folded, lobed, flat, and wavy. Although the cauliflower will produce a white spore print, there are no gills and no pores.

The two eastern species seem to be tree specific. Crispa is found under mature pines (yellow pine in my experience) and spathulata (which is usually smaller) under oak. Both species are mildly parasitic, but don’t be alarmed most trees will fall to the loggers axe long before sparassis takes them.

Supposedly Sparassis are quite common during wet summers, so this year should be perfect. I wouldn’t know because I rarely find them. This makes me very sad because they are one of my all time favorites to eat.  I guess somehow I offended the cauliflower gods and I have been banned from partaking of that sumptuous flesh.

If you find a specimen, bag it by itself. The shape and growth habit make for difficulty in cleaning, so you don’t need other mushrooms causing problems. To clean, I disassemble in fronds brushing off the dirt as I go and submerging them in salt water just in case there is living protein about. I’ve only had this prepared very simply, but the flavor and texture would lend itself to much more exotic dishes. I cut the fronds into long strips and sauté in butter with a little garlic and a pinch of salt. It’s like eating mushroom fettuccine and wondering where the mushrooms are. If I ever find another I want to make a beef stroganoff leaving out the egg noodles. I would think that both canning and sautéing then freezing would be good preservation methods, but I just don’t know.

Remember, large white balls at the base of trees equals good food. With all this rain the season of plenty is upon us. Put some away for the frozen months.

Steve Peek
Field mycologist and long standing member of the Asheville Mushroom 

(Images by: Mushroom Mountain)

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