Helvella Lacunosa

The edible Helvella lacunosa bears some resemblance to Gyromitra esculenta, the poisonous false morel. The clear difference lies in their stalk. The stalk of Gyromitra is smooth, and if hollow only has one or two chambers. The stalk of Helvella lacunosa is perforated, grooved and multichambered. In crossection it looks like a cluster of hollow tubes. The cap is black and deeply convoluted, and when shaken it will release a dusting of gray-black spores. The flesh is thin and brittle, crumbling when handled roughly. This is an extremely common mushroom under pine trees on the West Coast.

Although it looks a bit scary, the black helvella has a very mild taste and a pleasing, pliably crunchy texture when thoroughly cooked. I sometimes sauté fresh H. lacunosa until they are nearly dry, turning brown. They become crispy-chewy additions to the top of a salad or pasta. More often, I dry them and later use them in a clear-broth soup, as a substitute for Chinese cloud-ear fungus. They impart the same soft rubbery chewiness and mild musty flavor that never overpowers a delicate broth.