This is one of the best beginner’s mushrooms. Not only is cauliflower (Sparassis crispa) one of the easiest fungi to recognise with total certainty, but it tastes superb as well.
To my mind it looks more like a marine sponge than a vegetable, so the name stems more from the wonderful texture rather than taste. It attacks mature conifers, feeding off the tree’s resinous sap and rotting the xylem. This slowly kills the host and ruins the timber. As a result it is hated by foresters, but harvesting has no impact on the long-term prognosis for the tree.
It comes up year after year, so make a note of the location – it will almost certainly fruit in the same spot (or at least in the near vicinity) the next year. Large specimens can reach 75 cm across and weigh well over 2 kg. It lives up to the second part of its scientific name with a wonderful crunchy texture and is good both raw and cooked.
The mushroom’s main drawback is that pine needles, slugs and insects readily collect in its network of cavities, so it requires careful brushing before cooking. This effort is well worth the effort because it has an excellent taste and even better texture. Try frying it in batter to create a tempura-style nibble, although my latest experiment: mushroom caviar is just as delicious (see ‘Recipes’).