Mushroom of the Week - Are you mocking me?
Don't be fooled by this imposter for the famous Matsutake.
The Mock Matsutake makes a convincing case as a fill-in for the real king of the mushrooms (photo by Wendell Wood).
Mock Matsutake or Swollen-stalked Cat - Catathelasma ventricosa
While we previously examined the “true” Matsutake, Tricholoma magnivelare, for a firm textured mushroom, the Mock Matsutake, or Catathelasma ventricosa, maybe the next best thing. Overall, Tricholoma magnivelare is a white mushroom with brownish tones, while Catathelasma ventricosa is white with grayish tones. Both have stalks bearing prominent white rings as well having hard, firm caps with white gills.
The Mock Matsutake, with a mature cap often as big across as a small plate, is one of the largest and heaviest gilled mushrooms to be found in our forest. And while “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms” rates its edibility as “good”, the fresh mushroom is not nearly as pleasant smelling, as is the usually harder to find “real” Matsutake.
Most notably Catathelasma lacks the Matsutake’s pleasant spicy odor. Instead the Mock Matsutake’s odor is described as being “farinaceous”--smelling something like cucumbers or meal. More troubling to the first time collector, when a small bit is sampled raw, it actually tastes somewhat unpleasant. The objectionable flavor, however, is eliminated with cooking. However, as a firm, thick-fleshed mushroom, it requires a fair amount of cooking, but can well take the place of meat in a stir-fry dish.
The name “Catathelasma”, as best it can be defined, means “running down” supposedly in reference to its gills that are somewhat decurrent—running down the stalk. And, “ventricosa” generally refers to having a swelling on one side, or being pot-bellied—as the upper part of the stem is swollen before tapering to a bluntly pointed base.
Swollen-stalked Cats, while found in fir forests, I find, seem to predominate under our coastal Sitka spruce trees.
One somewhat similar species to be aware of, and not to mistake it for, is the dangerously poisonous Amanita smithiana. It is also white with a slender rooting base. It has no spicy odor, and has much softer flesh than either a Matsutake, or Mock Matsutake.
(The discussion here summarizes, but does not provide a fully detailed description of all the characteristics of the mushrooms mentioned. Thus, please consult a mushroom book for a more thorough description if you are collecting mushrooms for the table.)