.Black Saddle Mushroom
- Helvella Lacunosa
These black, wrinkle-capped mushrooms occur late in the winter on the West Coast. They have thick, convoluted, and sometimes shiny or slick rounded caps. The broad, hollow, pale-gray stems are fluted and scooped out. Millipedes and insects frequently use these crevices as temporary homes. They can easily be evicted while cleaning.
H. lacunosa is frequently found in large numbers in California, especially under Monterey pines and oak trees. These mushrooms are found scattered in hardwood or conifer forests, but seldom in as large numbers as around cultivated and landscaped places. In the eastern United States they show up in smaller numbers. They appear in many stages of development, from small erupting fruits to crumbling, decomposing older individuals. The small ones are the most favored.
Black saddle mushrooms have deep-black caps and firm, dry, rubbery, whitish stems. In general, there are few look-alikes for this species. But beware of a common white to pink mold that attacks and coats the surface of the cap. It can cause stomach upsets.
Cleaning: Remove the leaves, insects, or pine needles and debris, using a little water. Trim the stem.
Cooking: The flavor of H. lacunosa is subtle, and the interesting rubbery stem will give your dishes an unusual texture. Sometimes a dark pigment is released in cooking.
Most mushroom field guides caution users of H. lacunosa to either dry or parboil this mushroom for 3 to 5 minutes before cooking because it may contain a small amount of a toxic substance. This material, monomethylhydrazine, escapes into the air when the mushroom is dried, and it is cooked out when parboiled in water. The water should be discarded.
These mushrooms may be cross-sectioned and cooked in cheese sauce, or deep-fried until crisp. They can be simply sautéed with onions, or cooked in an omelette with chopped parsley. They also go well with rice.
Dried H. lacunosa absorbs water easily, so no soaking is needed prior to cooking.
Preserving: These mushrooms may be either dried or pickled. They should be parboiled before pickling. Discard the boiled water.