I'm a wild mushroom devotee. Hunting, researching, harvesting, cleaning, cooking, preserving-I love it all. Up until now, I've only shared mushrooms I enjoy eating. The old man of the woods (Strombilomyces) is one I do not like, eat, or tell others they should eat. In fact, it's got to be one of my least favorite mushrooms partially due to the fact that it's edible.
These mushrooms have a woodsy, smoky color and attractive cap pattern are easy to identify. They also have a wide distribution. These nice qualities in a mushroom, and that can make them tempting to bring home.
Tastes can vary, and some people have told me that they actually enjoy eating this mushroom. If you're one of the people that enjoy eating old men of the woods, go for it. There's going to be plenty of them out for you to enjoy since most hunters I know avoid them.
For years I've been putting off writing about the old man of the woods because the mushroom hunter in me keeps wanting to give it another shot.
But, after years of playing Ground Hog's Day with this mushroom, seeing it in the wild, enjoying it's shape and form, bringing it back to the kitchen thinking "I'll give it one more chance", then cooking it, eating it, and repeatedly finding it disgusting, I have to pass some judgement on it.
First though, a quick armchair description for those of you who may not be familiar with it, although as far as boletes go this is an easy one to identify. To clarify, when I saw "easy to identify" I'm talking about seeing the look and shape of this bolete and being able to put it in a genus, which is broad.
There are multiple types of Strombilomyces in North America, and the the mushrooms pictured are only one of them. That being said, if the as-of-yet-not-differentiated species of the old man of the woods taste anything like the ones I see in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I'm pretty confident they'll disgust me too.
In my opinion, any subtle culinary differences between different species of a mushroom that tastes this foul are probably not redeemable enough to make me put this mushroom in my mouth even one more time.
I see the old man of the woods in deciduous forests in summer from July-Sept (roughly), typically growing with oak, as you can infer from the images in situ here.
The only good thing I can say about this mushroom, is, well, it's a mushroom, and seeing it can mean that there are other mushrooms nearby that actually taste good, especially porcini and other boletes, chanterelles, black trumpet mushrooms and hedgehogs, all of which I regularly find nearby.
The taste: licking the underside of a moldy desk
Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful mushroom, dark and mysterious, it just tastes awful. The taste, as good as I can describe it, starts out tasting like mushroom with the texture of a bolete, but quickly fills your mouth with a foul aroma I think is best described as musty, or moldy.
Usually when people ask why I don't like the old man of the woods, I tell them it's because it tastes like licking the underside of a desk that's been stored in an attic. That isn't the kind of taste I want to impart to a soup, or any dish for that matter.
I want to know what you think though. Have you tried the old man of the woods? Do you actually like it? If so, why? From there, if you have any special tricks for taking away the awful taste, let me know. I told myself I'd never try it again, but if you have a special preparation for it I could be game, maybe.
I know taste is personal, but I find these to be akin to the flavor of store-bought Nothing special, but not too bad. I do suggest using the tubes separately (freeze for stock) as they get a soggy meh texture.
Thanks Kelly, I know my opinion comes off strong here. It's good to have some comments from people that enjoy them.
I'm curious if the Venn diagram of people who are repulsed by beets and red chard have significant overlap with haters of this one. I have had both young and old ones and they taste to me like you describe, but maybe a bit closer to dirt. I suspect there is some sensitivity to a particular component of the taste for those of us that hate them. I have a similar experience with tomatoes, though it's a different flavor I despise, ESPECIALLY fancy garden tomatoes which everyone claims are better. To each their own - especially with food.
An interesting thought.
Actually I've found there is a huge difference between the darker colored and the young white ones. If it has just started to get some dark ridges but is still mostly white then they are akin to most other Bolete that I have tried....but by the next day they change immensely in flavor and texture it seems......anyway just my 2 cents, happy hunting!
Thanks Gary, if somehow I happen to find them extra young, and bugless, and in a place with no other worthy mushrooms I might ask a friend if they want to try one. 🙂
Ok I just added these to dish with Black Trumpets and made a creamy sauce with addition of Old Man of the woods. Poured it over scallops. So good! I highly suggest drying these and adding them later to risotto or cream sauce or soup! soooo Good!!!
I cut off the pores, saved it for drying, they weren't terrible... but I'd eat the southernmost portion of a northbound goat. As some would say.
Yep, there's so many other great mushrooms to eat out there I wouldn't bother.
Alan, I've read almost all of your mushroom posts and I have never seen one with such strong opinions!
My girlfriend and I found a bunch of these in Hayward today along with golden, yellow foot and red chanterelles. We decided to do a taste test as I had only ever eaten golden chants and was curious about the flavor of old man of the woods.
I found them to be surprisingly tasty, with a nutty earthly flavor. I was hoping you had a post about how to preserve them!
I've encountered a ton of these in my first year of foraging. First one I checked out was actually in view of my porch. Seen a few young ones that looked good and didn't figure they were edible because of such a bizarre look of mushroom. After finding out otherwise, most I seen were large black spongey looking messes, or I was I'll prepared to try them. I went and found a ton of red chanterelles yesterday and a single little mushroom of one of these guys that was young and white. Sauteed same as the reds it tasted exactly like a store bought Portobello.
I love these mushrooms. They’re among my favorites to cook and eat. I think they taste like smoked pork or beef, but cooked with only butter and soy sauce. However, I’m an extremely picky forager. If it has any pitting or shows any signs of decomp at all, I bypass them. When they’re young and fresh, though, I find their flavor and texture delicious.
Thanks for sharing. Maybe I'll give them another shot.
My partner and I had a huge haul, our first, of Old Man yesterday. Not having experience with them I read through this page and several other sources before selecting one of the smaller caps for a taste test.
Just thought I'd add my findings to the comments.
My specimen was still young, the only darkness on the pores being from bruising during transport. After slicing into 1/4"-1/2" portions, I removed the pores from half the pieces so I could compare them as well. I sauteed them over medium heat in a 1/2 tablespoon of butter with just a pinch of salt on each piece, and after about five minutes plated them. The flavor was mild, very similar to a store bought portabello or button. The texture, VERY soft, like a small piece of tofu. The flesh had turned black from heat, making it appear at first glance it had been charred to a crisp. Very spongelike, I believe it'd be easy to impart any flavor you'd like if you allowed it to soak in your choice sauce/spice.
I didn't notice any notable difference between pieces with pores and those without, my guess is there's only a substantial difference in more mature specimens.
Hope this helps someone!
I thought I'd post a follow up, this morning I chose to attempt my largest Old Man I harvested. The radius of the cap was just larger than a softball, with it's edges just beginning to flatten out, and the spores on the underside fully blackened before I had even harvested.
As I had already given 24 hrs to ensure the smaller cap didn't cause me any stomach discomfort, my goal for this large cap was to make an enjoyable meal despite their reputation.
That said, I may have hid a lot of what others find displeasing, but the results were great.
I started by sauteing some onion and garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil, then added a sweet pepper, some liquid smoke, and some worcestershire. I removed the spores from the cap before scoring the surface and placing cap-side up in the skillet so it could use the spongy nature to absorb the oil. While it did this, I took two room temperature eggs and mixed them with a soft, stronger smelling aged cheese. After roughly two minutes I flipped the mushroom, topped with the onion/pepper/garlic in the pan, and lathered it in my egg mix. Covered until the egg cooked, and served.
My partner and I both enjoyed it, though any intrinsic undesirable flavor may have been hid by the recipe, what we could detect wasn't much different than your average portabello.
All that said, I look forward to harvesting Old Man of the Woods on future hikes, of all sizes.
Very young specimens taste OK and I agree to store them is detrimental to the taste. I found that mushrooms collected in dry hot weather have more "wood shavings" taste.
Very young can be dried and used as a bulk mushroom similar to scabers.
It's a pretty mushroom to look at and can be used as an indicator species for other mushrooms that grow in the same habitat (suillus, hedgehog, milkies, boletes, etc.)
As far as these mushrooms go, you can have them all! 🙂