September 2013 Featured Mushroom:
Hypomyces lactiflourum: Lobster Mushroom
The lobster mushroom is the result of a orangish, mold-like fungus attacking a white Russula or a Lactarius mushroom. Many mushroom guides suggest that one should know the host mushroom before eating this strange combination but that is nearly impossible without microscopic and even DNA analysis. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no known cases of poisonings caused by this mushroom. I have even seen it for sale in local supermarkets. Still many mushroom hunters avoid this tasty conglomeration because they don’t, can’t know the underlying mushroom.
Hypomyces lactiflourum is not a mushroom. It is an orange to reddish mold-like sac fungus that parasitizes several species of Lactarius and Russula mushroom. The result is called a lobster mushroom. The overall shape of the lobster mushroom is variable sometimes with remnants of the gills forming broad pseudo-gills somewhat like the pseudo-gills of the chanterelle family of mushrooms. The edge of the cap is often wavy or lobed. The stem is often very thick compared to the host mushrooms. The flesh is white with a thin orange to red skin. When viewed under a lens, the surface of the entire mushroom is covered with tiny orange to red bumps, pustules. Each pustule is a tiny flask fungus with spore-producing surface contained within the flask.
Lobster mushrooms can be a delicious mushroom greatly improving the flavor of the underlying mushroom, e.g., Russula brevipes or Lactarius piperatus. Many of the known host species are not palatable. Lobsters can be very difficult to clean with much cutting and discarding necessary to get to clean edible parts. The effort is worth it as this is a very tasty mushroom. Fischer and Bessette in Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America give a recipe for a Lobster Mushroom Spinach Salad with an orange ginger dressing; the mushroom is marinated in lemon juice and vermouth and not cooked. Generally lobster mushrooms are excellent when simply sautéed in butter or margarine.