Sunday, February 10, 2008

Winter Reading...

Here are a few articles on hunting wild mushrooms in Missouri I had copied from stories off the Internet over the past 5 years. Never hurts to do a little research in the off season.

This first one (circa. 2006) is very well written and researched and appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. It even includes a tasty recipe. As suggested in the article, the chicken of the woods is a good beginner mushrooms for those moving beyond the morel.

Stalking the Wild Mushroom

By Nina Rao

This is not a shy mushroom.

Far from it.

Its sulfur-yellow color is so loud that you can hunt it from your car seat. Its flavor and texture are so appetizing that it is commonly known as "chicken of the woods." And it's plentiful in Missouri.

On top of that, this is considered a beginner's mushroom, the kind that amateurs should be able to identify.

"There aren't any poisonous look-alikes," said Mike Skinner, a biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation's Springfield office. "It just seems to be pretty distinctive."

But don't expect to just wander through the woods and scoop it into your basket by the bushel-load.

You have to know where to look and when. And despite the mushroom's distinctive appearance, it's best to take precautions.

"It makes me very nervous to have rank amateurs collect mushrooms, thinking they can eat them," said Jeanne Mihail, a professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri. "I would strongly urge anyone to go out with someone knowledgeable."

Mihail mentioned three mushrooms that beginners might confuse with chicken of the woods: Grifola frondosa (which is commonly known as "hen of the woods," brownish in color and edible), Meripilus giganteus (which looks very much like the hen of the woods and is also considered edible) and Inonotus hispidus (whose edibility is unknown).

Skinner echoes Mihail's caution: "If you don't know it, don't eat it."

The basics

Given that caveat, chicken of the woods was listed as one of the "Foolproof Four" in a book about edible mushrooms published in 1943.

It is one of 10 edible mushrooms a Missouri Department of Conservation brochure considers easy enough for beginners to identify.

And Michael Kuo, the fungus guru behind the Web site, categorizes chickens as "recommended for beginners" in his upcoming book, "100 Edible Mushrooms" (which will be published in fall 2007). In the book, the only mushroom category easier to identify is named "in the store."

But the fact is people make mistakes, and mushrooms are generally more difficult to identify than, say, trees or birds.

"I tell beginners not to collect any mushrooms — to eat — for two years. Collect lots, but don't eat them. Just study them," Kuo said.

So here are some hints from Kuo on how to identify chicken of the woods. Just check with an expert before eating your finds.

First, there's the signature color, a bright yellow-orange. Second, chicken of the woods grows on hardwood trees, such as oak or maple. Third, it appears from late spring to late fall, depending on the weather. Finally, it is soft and fleshy.

Sulphureus vs. cincinnatus

There is a catch.

In the U.S., there are numerous species of chicken of the woods. Missouri is home to at least two: Laetiporus sulphureus (so named for the color) and Laetiporus cincinnatus (so named because the first person to name it lived close to Cincinnati).

Both sport the signature color. Both are soft and fleshy. Both grow on hardwoods.

Here's how you tell them apart:

Laetiporus sulphureus, also called sulphur shelf, fans out from the tree trunk like shelves. Its pore surface is yellow. It usually appears from late summer to late fall.

Laetiporus cincinnatus grows at the base of trees or on the ground (from buried roots) in a rosetta-like pattern. Its pore surface is white. It usually appears from late spring to mid-summer.

Good eating

Both are delicious. But they may not be equally delicious.

Kenton Olson, for example, claims Laetiporus cincinnatus tastes better. For that reason, Olson, a mushroom enthusiast and retired botany professor who lives in Branson, considers himself especially lucky that a cincinnatus has been appearing regularly in his yard for the past five years.

Either way, however, Olson ranks the chicken among his top three edible mushrooms, along with morels and chanterelles.

"It really has the texture of chicken," he said, "but it still has that nice flavor of wild mushroom."

He tends to sauté his chickens with butter or add them to stews and casseroles.

There's another benefit to the chicken mushroom. Unlike the elusive morel, which offers just a nibble, one chicken of the woods can provide a whole meal. Or 10.

That's what Ty Whitmore discovered in the fall of 2005 when he found a 56-pound chicken of the woods in northwest Missouri.

And that was only half of it. The other half apparently fell off when Whitmore chopped the monster mushroom off the maple tree where it was growing.

Realistically, however, a 56-pound chicken of the woods is old and tough. The fungus is only appetizing when it is young and tender, but even then, it is usually big.

"When you do find it, you can really make a meal out of it," Olson said. "And when you catch it when it's fresh, it cuts like butter."

Freshly cut "chickens" wait to be prepared and cooked during a Missouri Mycological Society meeting.

Roasted Chicken
(of the Woods) with Parmesan Polenta


2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Heat 2 & 1/2 cups of water and the salt in a 2-quart saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and very gradually pour the cornmeal into the water, stirring constantly. It should take about 3 minutes to add all the cornmeal. Continue stirring until the mixture is the consistency of oatmeal and the individual grains of cornmeal are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pepper to taste, the Parmesan and the butter, if using. The polenta can be covered and held off the heat for about 10 minutes before serving. Stir 1 or 2 tablespoons of hot water into the polenta before serving.


1 pound chicken mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon or sage

3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup chicken stock

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Slice the mushrooms into 2-inch strips. Combine the olive oil, tarragon and salt in a medium bowl. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and toss until coated with the seasoning mixture.

3. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer in a flameproof roasting pan. Roast, stirring from time to time, until well browned and tender, about 15 minutes.

4. Place the roasting pan with the mushrooms still in it over medium heat on the stovetop and stir in the stock. Continue stirring, scraping up the little brown bits that stick to the pan, until the stock is almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.

Divide the polenta among four bowls. Spoon the mushrooms and juices alongside the polenta.

Serve immediately. Serves 4

Source: “Mushroom Lover’s Mushroom Cookbook and Primer” by Amy Farges

Here are more details on that huge chicken found back in 2006:

Man Finds 56-Pound Mushroom in Missouri

  • Ty Whitmore found the giant fungus in Maysville, near Kansas City
    KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The mushroom Ty Whitmore found on a relative's farm near the northwest Missouri community of Maysville this week tipped the scales at 56 pounds - and that was only part of it.

    Whitmore, 19, of Kansas City, was cutting firewood Monday when he saw the orange and yellow mushroom growing from the base of a maple tree. He cut it off with a saw and said the biggest half of it fell into a creek.

    "I wanted to see if I had a world record," said Whitmore. "It was so heavy, and I was trying to carry it without damaging it, which was hard because I had to wade across creeks, and the brush in the woods was hitting it."

    Whitmore got it to his pickup truck, half a mile away, and had it weighed at a Maysville grocery store. He did some checking on the Internet and determined the big fungus was a sulfur shelf mushroom. Its scientific name is Laetiporus sulphureus, and it's commonly referred to as the "chicken of the woods" for its good eating qualities.

    "I hunt and fish, but this is the best thing I ever got, a real trophy," Whitmore said.

    On the Internet, the Guinness World Records lists the largest edible fungi as a giant puffball weighing 48 pounds, 8 ounces.

    Whitmore said he can tell his mushroom has lost some moisture weight, and he was undecided about whether to weigh it again and submit it to Guinness.

    The mushroom, measured Tuesday by a Missouri Department of Conservation, was 30 inches wide and 16 inches high. Harold Burdsall, a retired U.S. Forest Service fungus expert in Madison, Wis., said after looking at e-mailed photos that it was the biggest sulfur shelf mushroom he had ever seen.

    James W. Kimbrough, an expert on molds, mildews and mushrooms at the University of Florida, said reference books list the biggest sulfur shelf mushroom as being about 20 inches wide.

    While experts say it's doubtful anyone has a reliable record book for individual mushroom species, Kimbrough said the one Whitmore discovered has "got to be among the largest ever found in North America."

    Burdsall says sulfur shelf mushrooms taste great, with a firm texture and plenty of flavor.

    "If there are two wild mushrooms on the table, I'd always take that one, even over morels," he said.

    The mushroom probably took about two weeks to grow. Whitmore said the part that fell into the creek was a larger clump growing on top of the one he got. He said the water was too cold and deep for him to retrieve it.

    "It might have weighed 120 pounds altogether," he said.

    ...120 pounds, can you imagine that?

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