Entoloma abortivum, the CatDog of mushrooms
Third in the current mushroom sequence. Entoloma abortivum, a.k.a. aborted entoloma, a.k.a. pig snoots, is one of the more confusing edible mushrooms around. It's not confusing to properly identify; that's a fairly simple matter concerning this weird little malformed blob of white deliciousness. What's confusing is the fungi's biology.
From what I've gathered in my studies there has been a good deal of uncertainty, hypothesizing and revision over the years concerning the hows and whats of aborted entoloma growth and formation. At one time the common wisdom was that Entoloma abortivum was simply a malformed, "aberration" of the entoloma mushroom, kind of the mushroomy equivalent of a two-headed snake or the brain-eating-mutant Rob Roberts from the old X-Files episode "Hungry" (embracing my sci-fi geek self today).
Then, in 1974 a paper by a fellow named Roy Watling presented evidence that showed that Entoloma abortivum contained hyphae (mycelium filaments) of another fungi, Armillaria melea (honey mushrooms) . His work convinced the fungi world that the Armillaria mushroom was somehow parasitizing the Entoloma mushroom, thus creating a funky Entoloma abortivum mutation. But wait, there's more! In recent years the theory has reversed the relationship, as new evidence from fungi experts Tom Volk, Dan Lindner and Harry Burdsall Jr. (Wisconsinites, btw) supports the hypothesis that it is Entoloma that is parasitizing Armillaria, rather than the other way around. And as you might imagine, online mushroom forums are full of lively chatter and debate on the subject.
Volk also recommends changing the common name of the mushroom from Aborted Entoloma to Aborted Amillaria. I'm kind of partial to our colloquial Pig Snoot, as that's the term I first associated them with when I was introduced to them many years ago by my friend Tom, who I've mentioned in previous mushroom posts. Volk also shares that the Mexican name for the mushroom is the colorful and slightly tongue twisting Totlcoxcatl, which means "turkey wattle". I love that one too.
All of this confusion on who's affecting who, which mutation came first, and just what the heck is this thing really, makes it the CatDog of mushrooms in my book.
So, what does all of this scientific mushroom mystery and theater have to do with your pursuit of tasty pig snoots? I'm not sure...maybe nothing. But it certainly is interesting, and ought to, I think, enhance our appreciation for this seasonal delicacy.
Properly identifying pig snoots is pretty simple, as there are no mushrooms that it could reasonably be mistaken for. Look for these characteristics:
- White body, perhaps with bits of gray or dull salmon, particularly in the interior.
- Texture is firm to spongy, pithy, with no discernable directional grain.
- Absence of gills.
- Knobby and misshapen in appearance (also descriptively called "ground prunes" in some locales). No discernable stem, or at best a very abbreviated stem.
- Aroma is somewhat mealy and earthy.
- Found in the dirt at the base of both living and dead trees and stumps, as well as on open ground where the soil is rich.
- Fruit in autumn, September and October here in Wisconsin.
Pig snoots are best prepared soon after harvesting, Clean with a brush and a quick rinse in cold water. They can host a few tiny visitors, especially on their undersides, so be sure to be thorough in your cleaning and don't be afraid to cut off any mushy or undesirable spots. Once clean and dried with a soft towel I usually space them out on a wire rack to allow them to dry and firm up a little bit more. I've had no success, however, with drying them for preservation. Slice to uniform thickness of about a ¼".
I prefer to fry or saute pig snoots fairly quickly at a little higher heat, in butter or bacon grease. They are rather spongy and will soak up any oil, butter or bacon fat in the pan. A pinch of salt and pepper, and maybe an even more stingy pinch of ground nutmeg is good for seasoning. Cook them until they brown, and that's it. Then you can add them to whatever you want or just eat them as they are. I find it best to cook them before adding to a dish, as opposed to adding them raw and cooking in the dish itself. I like my pig snoots with eggs, rice, noodles and on sandwiches, although when I serve them to company I may refer to them as Totlcoxcatl, just because it sounds more elegant.
Aborted Entoloma, Aborted Armillarias, Pig Snoots, Ground Prunes, Totlcoxcatl or whatever you choose to call them, these amorphous fungi are fun to hunt - every one is unique - and very good to eat.
* You can read Tom Volk's account of the developments associated with Aborted Armillaria, as well as view more images, at Tom Volk's Fungi. He also shares a link to the paper he, Lindner and Burdsall presented, which details their research into the relationship between Entoloma, Armillaria and their aborted "offspring".