Since my blissful encounter with a black morel on May 2, I have had many a fruitless morel foray. Now that I have seen morels this spring with my own eyes, I am even more frantic than ever in my single-minded pursuit of these elusive edibles. To make myself feel just a smidgen better about my empty basket, I have been gathering tender young specimens of Dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus).
Dryad’s saddle is a common site on hardwood logs throughout May and June, and it is often ignored or maligned as an edible. I’ll be the first to admit I get more giddy finding just one morel than a whole tree covered in Dryad’s saddle, but I do enjoy this polypore’s pungent lemon cucumber aroma and delicate woodsy flavor. The young specimens are excellent sautéed in butter with garlic, shallots, or ramps, and their lemony flavor complements fish or poultry. Older Dryad’s saddle is especially deserving of its name, becoming tough and leathery and looking like a perfect seat for a wood nymph. I almost always leave larger mushrooms on the tree, but occasionally I harvest a few and boil them into a savory broth that seems to impart the essence of spring.
Also known as the pheasant back, Dryad’s saddle is tan to brown with darker, feathery scales, white flesh, and white, webbed pores on the underside. One to several fan-shaped mushrooms may emerge out of the same thicker base. If you plan to sauté or pan-fry the mushrooms, be sure they are no bigger than your palm, or that they can be easily sliced with your knife.
There are a couple of inedible yet innocuous spring polypores that a novice could confuse for Dryad’s saddle, but they are thinner, smaller, and far less meaty. In short, if the mushroom you find looks about as juicy and appetizing as a sheet of cardboard, don’t eat it. Otherwise, enjoy it for what it is, and keep on praying for morels!