Lost hedgehog hunters, rescued!
Last week, with wonder and relief, I learned that the three mushroom pickers who had disappeared in southwest Oregon near the coast were found after six nights without food or shelter. Using a sheath knife and a dead cellphone, Dan and Belinda Conne, both 47, and their 25-year-old son Michael, signaled to helicopters overhead through the thick forest foliage. An article from the Associated Press disclosed the amazing details, including the couple’s admission that in their desperate hunger, they considered eating their dog (I might have kept that one to myself, although sometimes it does feel good to get everything off your chest), that they slept in a hollow log, and that they were hunting for hedgehogs!
I first discovered hedgehogs when I was hunting for chanterelles. A similar light-orange color, these smaller mushrooms have stalactite-like teeth rather than gills and a little dimple on the top. I kept finding them and feeling infuriated that these adorable orange-white mushrooms were catching my eye, while the golden chanterelles were in hiding. (I later learned that hedgehogs can withstand greater cold, thus the Conne’s hunt in early February.) The next day, at the Hollywood Farmers Market, I found a basket full of the toothed hedgehogs, and I rushed back to gather my own.
Hedgehogs are delicious! They are firm and savory, and I cannot wait to try them in Japanese takikomi gohan, literally translated as ‘cooked-together rice,’ in which the flavor of the mushrooms takes over the entire pot. (See recipe below.)
[Source: Paul and Bernice Noll's Window on the World.]
Thank goodness the three foragers – and their dog – are safe. It is so easy to get lost when chasing mushrooms from one to the next, head down, eyes scanning for flashes of color. Two fall’s ago, my mom and I were hunting for chanterelles in the coastal forest on uneven terrain. Although roads boarded us closely in three directions, my mom wandered farther and farther into the forest and then lost all sense of direction. A pickup truck headed to a shooting range deep in the woods found her completely turned around on a road two miles away, and having passed our car, drove her back. I took it as an important reminder on mushroom hunting protocol: carry and consult a compass. Now I’d add to that, buff your knife.
Takikomi Gohan with Hedgehogs and Sweet Potatoes
2 cups short grain Japanese rice
2 cups water
1 Tbsp rice wine or white wine
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 oz sweet potato (approximately 3/4 medium sweet potato)
3 oz hedgehog or shitake mushrooms
1/2 oz kombu (dried seaweed)
2 oz chicken or pork (optional)
1. Place rice in a bowl and fill halfway with water; then immediately discard the water. Cover with water again and wash gently with the palm of your hand for 30 seconds. Discard the water. Repeat 2 or 3 times. The water should still be a little cloudy when you’re done.
2. Wash and scour sweet potato thoroughly. Dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Soak the cubes in water for 10 minutes.
3. Clean mushrooms with a brush. Then cut mushrooms into large pieces.
4. Place the rice, water, and rice wine into the pan of a rice cooker. Mix and add the soy sauce and sea salt. Nestle the kombu in the rice, and then pile the sweet potato and mushrooms on top. If using meat, dice into small pieces and add. Switch rice cooker on. If you don’t have a rice cooker, use a heavy saucepan with a close-fitting lid. After bringing the water to a boil, simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes with the lid on. (Be careful not to scorch the rice.) Then turn off the heat.
5. Allow the rice, sweet potato, and mushrooms to steam for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Once finished cooking, open the rice cooker, remove the kombu and lightly stir without mashing up the potatoes. Serve immediately.
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Preparation time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour