If you enjoy foraging forest mushrooms in the spring and fall, especially east of the Rocky Mountains, you’ve likely come across the pheasant back mushroom. This wonderful bracket fungus is a joy to stumble upon and some folks find them quite good to eat too.
If you’ve harvested a flush of these edible fungi, you may be wondering the best way to store pheasant back mushrooms. We’ve got you covered.
In this guide, we’ll cover the fungal classification, ecology, and morphological description of the pheasant back mushroom, and provide the best methods for storage.
Alright, let’s jump in!
Pheasant Back Mushroom: Classification, Ecology, and Morphological Characteristics
Also known as dryad’s saddle, the pheasant back mushroom is a bracket fungus that belongs to the Polyporaceae family. This fungal family includes at least 100 genera and over 1,600 species. The pheasant back mushroom (Cerioporus squamosus) used to belong to the Polyporus genus, which historically contained most polypore species but now, due to ongoing genetic research, is a relatively small genus among many other genera of polypore mushrooms.
Ecology and Distribution
Cerioporus squamosus is distributed across North America but occurs much more commonly east of the Rocky Mountains. This fungus is both parasitic and saprobic, meaning it derives its nutrients by invading and damaging a living host (parasitic) and from decomposing organic matter (saprobic). Specifically, the pheasant back mushroom grows on live and dead hardwood logs and stumps.
In the Midwest and east of the Rockies, you can often find this mushroom growing from silver maple and box elder trees. In western North America, its preferred host is the quaking aspen. You can find it growing alone or often in clusters of two or three.
Through its parasitism, the pheasant back mushroom causes a white heartwood rot on the tree. As a white rot fungus, Cerioporus squamosus is able to digest the lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose of the tree. Through its biological processes, this fungus contributes to crucial carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling back into the soil.
In the spring, foragers commonly find these mushrooms in similar habitats as morels that form hardwood associations. You can also find them in the fall once summer temperatures have dropped. As such, spring and fall are the times of year that you’ll likely store pheasant back mushrooms.
Cerioporus squamosus can appear as a semicircle, kidney-shaped, or fan-shaped. When young this mushroom’s cap is broadly convex and becomes flat to deeply depressed at maturity. The cap width ranges from 2-12 inches across. The cap color varies from light tan to cream-yellow and can get even darker with age. It features dense, somewhat radially-arranged speckling of brown to brown-red or brown-black scales.
The pores run down the stem (stipe) and appear white to cream-colored when young. As the pheasant back mushroom matures, the pores look more yellow. They do not noticeably bruise upon pressing or slicing. The spore print is white.
The stipe ranges from rudimentary to short and measures between .75-3. inches tall. One interesting feature of this mushroom is that the stipe is whitish when young, but soon becomes covered from the bottom up with a velvety, dark brown to black mat of hairs called tomentum.
When young, the flesh of Cerioporus squamosus is soft, white, and thick. As it ages, it becomes corky and tough. As such, most folks only prefer to eat this mushroom when it’s young. The flesh color is unchanging when sliced. Many people describe the smell of the flesh, interestingly, as watermelon or cucumber!
The Best Way to Store Pheasant Back Mushrooms
If you’ve just harvested a nice batch of pheasant back mushrooms, you may be wondering how to best extend their freshness. Below, we’ll cover how to prepare and store your harvest of Cerioporus squamosus.
Clean Your Harvest
Before storing, you’ll want to make sure your harvest is clean and free of insects. Moist dirt and the presence of insects can both accelerate decay, so first, you’ll want to thoroughly clean your mushrooms.
One method of cleaning polypores like pheasant back mushrooms is to use an ice cream scoop or spoon to scrape or peel the outermost, pore-containing surface off the underside. It isn’t necessary, but this is also where you’ll find the most bugs, so scraping this section off can quickly clean up your mushrooms. What’s left behind should be clean, white, and tender to semi-tender flesh. If you’re having difficulty separating this exterior layer, the mushroom may be too old and tough to eat.
You can use a toothbrush or similar to gently clean the cap of any dirt or insects as well. Most folks also cut the stipe from the cap at this stage as well, since the stipe is almost always too tough to eat.
To prevent accelerated decay, you’ll want to store the mushrooms whole, but note that you often will only want to use the outer section of this polypore mushroom, where the flesh is most tender. If you find pheasant back mushrooms young, however, you can use much more of the cap. Some folks also use the larger, older caps for soup stock instead.
Store Your Pheasant Back Mushrooms in the Fridge
You should get about 7-10 days of freshness if you store pheasant back mushrooms in the fridge. This cold environment slows down spoilage, prevents the growth of many decay-causing microbes, and protects the mushrooms from UV exposure. You also best preserve the aroma, texture, and taste by storing your mushrooms in the fridge.
To prevent excess moisture accumulation, it’s best to cold store your whole pheasant back mushrooms in a brown paper bag or a breathable fabric bag. Using air-tight containers and plastic wrap will cause moisture accumulation and speed up spoilage.
Pickling Pheasant Back Mushrooms
Another common way of storing and preparing pheasant back mushrooms is through pickling! The process of pickling Cerioporus squamosus produces a rather interesting flavor, similar to that of pickled watermelon rinds. Marinading them in a savory, gingery brine can pair well with the natural flavor of pheasant backs.
The pickling process also helps to preserve your mushrooms. You can expect properly pickled mushrooms that are completely covered in brine to last about one month in the fridge. The below recipe is for 2 lbs of mushrooms. You can use other marinade ingredients or keep it simple and just use mushrooms, sugar, vinegar, and water, but I like the flavors of this recipe. Follow the steps to create a wonderful batch of pickled pheasant backs:
- Clean the 2 lbs of pheasant back mushrooms as described a couple sections above.
- Slice the tender, choice sections into roughly 3″ long, 2″ wide sections.
- Bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sherry vinegar to a boil and add in mushrooms.
- Cook for about 15 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a low simmer and add in marinade ingredients of 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup of sugar, 2 fresh cloves of peeled garlic, and a 2-3″ peeled slice of fresh ginger.
- Fill clean mason jars with mushrooms and brine. Make sure to completely cover the mushrooms in the brine.
- Seal with a lid and store for up to 1 month in the fridge.
Allowing the mushrooms to marinade for 24-72 hours before eating will really elevate the flavors. You can pair these pickled mushrooms with a variety of dishes and fresh herbs and vegetables or meat dishes.
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