Mushroom of the Week - Beef, it's a mushroom for dinner
Looks like meat, tastes a bit like fruit—and just to gross other people out, you can eat it raw!
The beefsteak mushroom - looks like flanksteak, grows on the flanks of downed trees. (Photo by Wendell Wood)
Beefsteak Fungus or Beefsteak Polypore, Fistulina hepatica
This mushroom doesn’t really taste like beefsteak, but it sure looks like a slab of fresh, red, raw meat when sliced open.
This laterally attached mushroom, which grows on hardwoods in southwestern Oregon (and on down the California coast), has a flat reddish cap, with yellowish-buff pores underneath. This under surface of pores bruises reddish-brown (against its lighter background) very rapidly when picked or handled.
While Fistulina is reported to grow on the base of oaks and chestnuts throughout its North American East coast and European range, on the Pacific West coast it is most often found in fall and winter on down trees or stumps of tree chinquapin.
Cutting open the mushroom reveals a remarkable fleshy, slightly gelatinous, reddish veined or marbled, meat like texture. And, to carry the analogy disgustingly further, its slight red juiciness, does look a bit like blood. This overall deep red color seems too intensify as the cut surfaces are exposed to the air.
This “vegetarian beefsteak” is very edible, and some even rate it as “good”--particularly due to a slightly acidic, sour flavor reminiscent of (perhaps) less than ripe fruit. However, other palates, perhaps not as charmed by its raw meat-like appearance, rate it only as “interesting”.
While you can cook it, it is one of the few wild mushrooms you are actually encouraged to try eating raw, as it is also high in vitamin C. Although the fresh mushroom keeps fairly well in a refrigerator, the raw caps can be preserved even longer by cutting them into strips, and marinating in balsamic vinegar, to be eaten separately or in salads.
While long considered to be a “polypore” akin to other (generally more) woody bracket or shelf fungi (also called conks), close examination of its down-facing side reveals the beefsteak mushroom to have an unusual arrangement of its reproductive pores. Rather than the spore-bearing tubes being pinpoint sized openings, and completely embedded in the surface of the underside of the mushroom’s other flesh, these tubes, while packed tightly together, are actually individually separate from one another. Under a hand lens, or low magnification, the pores look like the ends of stacks of very small, yellowish colored pipes.
Actually, the generic name “Fistulina” means “small pipes”. And as yet still another confirmation of your identification, these “pipes” can be partially scrapped off with your finger nail (with a little vigor)--more as you can do with the spongy mass of adhering tubes found on Bolete mushrooms.
The species epithet, “hepatica” refers to its overall (and more aged) appearance to a big, dark red piece of cow liver. For some, Beefsteak Fungus is probably gross enough, that no one felt compelled to name it “Cow-Liver Fungus”.