Pheasant Back Mushrooms
While on some work-related training in downtown Charlottetown recently, I took advantage of my lunch break to take a nice walk. It’s impossible to walk without looking at plants and fungi of course, and I was pleased to find this Pheasant Back (Polyporus squamosus, Photo 1).
Pheasant Back is a distinctive mushroom that would be hard to mistake for any other. Its cap is covered with beautiful, overlapping scales resembling bird feathers, hence the common name. Another popular name for this species is Dryad’s Saddle, and you can imagine a forest nymph using this fungus as a seat. Look under the cap, and you won’t find gills like Portobellos or tight pores like Porcinis, but instead larger, irregular pores that look a bit like lace (Photo 2). Youngers specimens will have smaller pores than these, but the general shape and pattern is the same.
Pheasant Back is an edible mushroom, but one that gets mixed reviews. I’ve seen the flavour described as everything from poor and mealy to tasty and delicious. The texture is unquestionably tough; younger specimens will be much less chewy than this older one. On the advice of a mushroom-expert friend of mine (thanks, Jessika!), I carved off the softer edges to fry and made stock from the rest. The fried bits were very good: mild and earthy-mushroomy – definitely something I’d eat again. The broth smelled absolutely wonderful while simmering, and produced a delicious, amber liquid that I think would make an excellent soup base or stir fry addition (Photo 3). I used mine to cook couscous, to which I added red onions, pistachios, olive oil, cumin, and turmeric and served cold as a side dish. (You can find out how I made my broth, along with my couscous recipe, in the Wild Food Recipes section of this blog.
I found this Pheasant Back growing on deadwood, but you can also find them on live trees, especially Birch, Elm, Maple, and Poplar (including the non-native species of these trees often used as ornamentals and for shade in urban landscapes). Pheasant Back can be found from spring through fall, but May and June are the best months to look for them.
Beautiful fungi are a wonderful part of PEI untamed!