Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall "Fowl"age

The colder nights not only bring on the glorious fall foliage that Missouri is known for, but it tends to stir up some most delicious fowl as well. This is not the traditional birds that most hunters seek out, but rather the fungal variety that us mushroom hunters are hoping to track down. Namely Grifola Frondosa or the hen of the woods mushroom. In Japan it is called the Maitake mushroom, where it is sought out high and low as a delicacy and medical remedy for many forms of cancer and other health conditions. Maitake literally means dancing mushroom, which is what happens when you first come across a nice clean one.

I happened out with my kids today. They love to hunt mushrooms but being only a month shy of turning four, they are not quite ready to traverse the woods. However, that is the good thing about hen of the woods. They are so big and in this area no one else really hunts them, so you can usually spot and pick them right off the trail when conditions are right. And right they have been for the past two weeks. So I was not surprised when a known hen producing tree had a nice beauty sitting at its base. That is a bonus of finding a hen, note that tree for years to come because they grow year after year in the same spot. The one we found today weighed in at a little over 2 pounds (another bonus of finding them, lots of mushroom). The one in the picture measured about 13 inches across by 10 inches wide by 9 inches tall. I usually find mine at the base of oak trees but they do show up around other trees as well. When prepaering for the table, brush of any dirt and cut or break off the fronds. If it is a young specimen you can also use the central stem, however, I find it a little tough unless you prepare it slow like in a stew. I prefer to lightly saute mine in oil and serve over fish or on a salad. But they are excellent grilled, baked and about anyway. It has a taste that is hard to describe but many, including myself prefer it to morels, so it is a worth a try if you are lucky to find one. See for more information.

We also happened on some chicken of the woods or sulfur shelf mushrooms. These would have been ripe for the table had I been out last week. They were beginning to fade and a little long in the pore so we left them behind. But that is another fowl fungus that can be readily found in fall and the bright orange really stands out. I usually find them on old black fallen logs and stumps, but you can also find them on scars and breaks in live trees (primarily oak).

If you haven't managed to get out in the woods, it is time to get hiking before the winds of winter move in and end the mushroom season for good. Hen of the woods dries very well and is a good mushroom to store and eat on those cold winter days.

Ahistory and kids on the maitake trail (photos by Jon Rapp)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time to Get Back Out There...

Well, if you have stayed away from the woods, like I have the last few weeks, now is prime time to get back out there. The recent rains have a flourish of mushrooms flushing from summer varieties to the start of the fall ones. I haven't found any honies or hens yet, but they are sure to be a week or so away, especially with all the rain in the forecast due to hurricane Ike.

I did manage to get away and walk some local woods at lunch the last two days. Found corals, indigo milkies, some blue-green clitocybe, black trumpets, chants of all types and sizes, and one of my favorites, sweet tooth or hedgehog mushrooms. They are one of my favorites and I have never found them in much quantity, so it was a pleasent surprise to stumble across some nice size patches. I will definately be checking these areas again next year.

What was great and this really highlights the benefits of hunting summer and fall mushrooms versus the elusive morel, is that these were right off the trail and only minutes from the parking lot. In spring with all the morel hunters you'd have to be first to pick these areas, but in summer you can take your time because the competition is non-existent and there are plenty of shrooms for all. So get out there and keep your eyes open for some tasty finds.