Monday, October 25, 2010

Hens and oaks -- a tip for tracking them down

Much of my success in spring with morels is due to my knowledge of trees and what I learn each season about how the various species associated with morels are producing that year. The spring trees were fairly easy, at least to me, perhaps due to my passion for finding morels, but come summer and fall I have never paid much attention ,other than that I knew I found hens generally on oak trees.

Well that changed this year. While out meandering for hens with a fellow blog reader and hunter ( that is one of the benefit of having a blog like this, I meet great people and learn a lot from you guys). Anyway, he pointed out a few minor differences that helped me. For example, the most common red oaks have very dark, almost blackish, bark and pointed leaves. So, now when I walk through the woods, I often pay a little more attention to the darker-barked oak trees, than I do the lighter ones. However, if you do this you could be really missing out. Because several red oaks have lighter color bark but a great producers.

Recently, I noticed a trend with a certain red oak that is very easy to identify, the shingle oak. It is the only oak tree in MO that has banana shaped leaves like the ones seen here.

I noticed that although I find a majority of my hens on the more generic looking, dark barked pointed leaf red oaks, because there are a lot more of them, the shingle oaks seem to be much more susceptible to infestation by the hen of the woods mushroom (grifola frondosa).

Don't get me wrong, these trees are fairly rare among the oaks in Mid-MO, but it seems that almost one in three shingle oaks that if find has hens. For example, I found a small section of woods with about 30 some red oaks, six of which were shingle oaks and four of the six had hens. None of the red oaks were infested.

So I am thinking about this when I go to my barber, who has recently been turned on to wild mushrooms and finds hens to be just as good if not better than morels. She had found a tree while walking her dog in town. It was right on the street in a backside part of someone's lot that was overgrown with bush honeysuckle, so there was no chance of fertilizers or pesticides/herbicides. I was excited that she had found a tree, but she kept saying it wasn't on an oak. That was my clue and I said I had to take a look. I had a suspicion it was a shingle.

It was actually just around the block. As I turned the corner my eyes went to the trunks. Lots of nice dark red oaks lines the street. Looking up at the canopy though, only one was a shingle and sure enough that was the tree with several old hens and some harvested stumps.

Another observation that supports my speculation is that I find nice hens on very small shingle oak trees (trunks 10 to 12 inches across). This might suggest that they get infected at an earlier age, since I do not find hens on any other red oaks of that size (except for the Chinkapin Oak).

I mentioned my shingle oak suspicions on the Morel Hunters Board and I several others reaffirmed the relationship between shingles and hens. The I got an email from Camoshroomer this afternoon. It is his photo above of the leaves. The tree was this one.
This photo is one of several trees he found. He said, "four trees of about 15 in the yard had hens, 2 were shingle, the only shingles." That translates to 100% infection rate in that yard for shingle oaks and a 15% rate for the remaining 13 trees.

Now just because I start using numbers, don't think this is by any means scientific. I didn't do any real research to see if mycologists or biologists have documented such an associations. But, when more than one hunter says he has good hen days hunting, the very easy to ID and recognize, shingle oaks, I'd take extra note of it.

Now all this being said about the red oak family, I do have two very old white oaks trees that produce hens pretty steadily, so you can't entirely rule them out either. As with morels, when it comes to hens there are exceptions to every rule.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More MO Maitake

Not much time to write tonight but here are a few photos from todays hunt.

Here are a few of the ones that were so fresh I had to leave them behind. Hopefully they will grow and I can pick them later this week.

One tree over from where I left behind the babies, i found this nice chicken of the woods. I prefer them a little younger than this, but knowing that I was meeting Mr. Rogers soon, who loves them, I figured I had better take it with me to pass along to someone who would enjoy it.

Here were my finds before I met up with Mr Rogers.

We walked a trail that has now come up empty twice and wasted some time. On the way back we took a trip over to a tree that was a known producer but that I had checked about 8 days ago and found zilch, and today these nice ones were there.

Didn't have much time after that but before I headed home Mr Rogers showed me a tree that he left 4 on the other day. All looked nice and healthy with no signs of drying. Mr Rogers said they had gotten about 2 to 3 times bigger in just a few days, which is promising for the ones that I left behind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mmm, Maitake

Someone recently asked me what do you do when you find all of those hen of the woods mushroom (or grifola frondosa as Feral Boy would be sure to point out). Well, my first answer, of course, is always to preserve some, by either drying or freezing. The second answer is cook them and eat them.

Hens happen to be a very adaptable mushroom for all types of cooking so there are some great recipes, such as the soup one I provided earlier. Also, you can make fancy French things, that although they sound a little pretentious, are indeed quite delicious and very versatile.

Take for example this recipe below for a mushroom duxelle. It is quite an undertaking to simmer down 5 pounds of chopped mushrooms. It usually takes quite a few hours of work, but the reward is great because you end up with some incredible tasting pate like substance that you can use for anything from stuffing pork chops and pastries, to just eating plain on warm bread.

Mushroom Duxelle

mushrooms, finely grated through cheese wheel or food processor -- 5 pounds
scallions, finely chopped -- 2.5 cups
salt -- 1 1/2 tablespoons
butter -- 1 pound
parsley, finely chopped -- 1 cup

Preparation steps:
1. grate mushrooms
2. in a small stockpot or large saucepan, saute mushroom and scallions with salt and butter, reduce heat to medium low when thoroughly sauteed and simmer until all liquid evaporates. This could take an hour or two.
3. remove mixture from heat and mix in fresh parsley.

Chill and use for whatever. Meadow Mushrooms, Hen of the woods, and chanterelles (black trumpets) works best for this recipe, but any mushroom will do.

Final yield will be around 3 pounds. Will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks and in the freezer for 6 months.

Recipe was originally posted on the Michigan Morel Board by a friend and world-class Michigan mushroomer, Miker.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

All It takes Is One Good Tree

Although it has been dry, most polypores like the hen of the woods mushroom (grifrola frondosa) are still going like gangbusters because they get moisture from the roots and trees. I had been finding dry one earlier this week, but after Mr. Rogers, a local hunter reported finding many fresh ones on Saturday, I decided to give it another go.

I din't see much at first. Everything was really dry. However, every now and then I would see a fresh rooting polypore or rosy russula so things looked good. I was walking along ridges off a main trail and I paying attention to trees, so I quickly got off track and just as I was turning back to retrace my steps to the trail I saw this little guy.

This is the first year that I have been paying attention to the actual type of oaks, and all but one of the hens I have found have been on types of red oaks. However, this one was on a different type of tree. It was a broad leaf, heck I don't even know if it was an oak. but it sure was a nice fresh hen.

After that I looked around there a little more but seeing nothing I headed back to find the trail and continue on my intended path. I was following in the footsteps of Mr. Rogers. He said he had only walked about half of the trail and after seeing this photo of a dead tree with 8 giant hens around it, 5 of which were too old that he left them behind, I just had to see it.

I never did see that tree. I did see a few other stumps that he had left behind. And I checked every dead tree I saw, but still nothing. After a while, I was a good mile down the trail and was beginning to wonder if he had picked them all. But soon enough I came around a corner and saw this tree.

It was nice to see a bunch of hens, even if most of them were dried up.

When Mr Rogers and I walked this area back in July looking for chanties and other edibles, I had found and been carrying that grate for a bit. I sat it down next to that big oak, saying that this looked like a good hen tree. If only I had gotten there a few weeks sooner. Still I was happy because I knew where I should check next fall.

By this time I was dragging, the trial I was on goes along bluffs along a creek but it goes up and down all the time on rough and rocky terrain. However, I knew of one more large oak about 200 yards down the trail that had lost its top (a sure sign that some disease probably fungus, was working its way around). After all, hen of the woods are parasites as well as saprophytes. So, I decided to go a bit further and see if it had anything.

Boy am I glad I did.

A glorious hen tree, with seven real beauties around it. Just like in spring, during morel season, when it comes to hens, sometimes all it takes is one good tree.

Although a few were starting to yellow, like this one here.

It had clearly spored out, as you can tell by the white on the fronds and on the leaves underneath it. It was just starting to yellow along the edges, but it was very fresh. These are fine to eat, but I like to eat the fresher ones and so I dry these out for use all year long.

Here is a nice fresh one growing up amongst the plants.

Here is a close up of the freshest ones on the far side of the tree

They really are a pretty mushroom when you take a closer look.

This was my favorite view. Only after I picked them all and had three grocery sacks with around 30 pounds did I remember the arduous mile trek up and down, up and down, up and down, back to the car. Although my legs ached when I finally got home, It was well worth the trip.

Don't let the dry weather keep you from getting out. If you want some hens, get out there , walk a trail, and check those oak trees. You may surprised by what you find.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Hen In Hand is Worth, well you know the rest.

It has been a great fall for hens so far in Mid-MO, which is good because if the arid forecast holds, it looks like the fall season will dry up almost as quickly as it began.

I went out with a few local hunters for a long stroll around a local wilderness area. I knew we'd find a few because one of the fellows with me, who is new to hen hunting, had left behind several. Being new he didn't know what was a good one and what was a bad one and having a lot of success he had fairly high standards and only took the freshest.

Myself, not having found but three or four hens the night before was happy to go back after the ones he left behind which were barely showing signs of yellowing. So we knew we would at least come home with a few. In the end we probably pulled 15 to 20 pounds finding just over 10 hens during the hunt. The one below was the freshest of the day, but not the biggest.

I learned a bit today myself, as for the first time I was with someone who knew his oaks. All of the hens we found today were on red oaks, those are the oaks with the dark bark. Although I have found ones on white oaks in the past, we did not find a one on anything but a red oak today.

There is a great little piece on fall edible mushrooms in the most recent edition of the Missouri Conservationist . Mr Rogers, who has had great luck with hens, was one of the hunters with me today. During our hunt, he pointed out that there is a great recipe for hen of the woods soup in the article. He and his wife made it and really liked it and his parents did the same. I think I may give it a shot this weekend. It sounds pretty tasty. There are several good mushroom recipes in that edition. You can read the article here. Note that the cover photo and several of the other photos in the issue are by local fungal photographer Jon Rapp, whose photos I often use in here. Way to go Jon!

The article also highlights a new book for Missouri mushroom hunters both avid and amateur alike. It is called Missouri's Wild Mushrooms. Written by Maxine Stone, former president of the Missouri Mycological Society, and one heck of a cook and fungiphile, not to mention a decent writer, the book provides the best overview of edible mushrooms in our fine state. Jon Rapp also contributed a lot of the photos. All in all, it is well worth the $14.

But I digress, getting back to the hens, it has been an odd year for me. Of the 50 or so trees that have produced hens in past years, none of them are producing. One had a small dried up hen and one only have stumps (I have yet to figure out who cut those). However, despite this lack of success with my old tried and true trees, as we were out walking I decided to check a really old tree. It had fallen over a few years back and hadn't produced a hen since 2007, but i figured since we were in the neighborhood I would take a look and see. Boy I am glad I did. This old log was right on the edge of a field. The tree had actually fallen into the field, but the hens didn't seem to care.

A straggly looking specimen on the right but a nice 8 pound beauty on the right. This was the biggest of the day for me, but in the end I probably came home with a good 12 to 15 pounds of very usable hen.

Here is an older hen but still a good one. I like to dry the older ones for using all year. You can also freeze them. Some lightly sauté each side and I know others who freeze it fresh. Seems to come out fine in both cases as long as it is a nice fresh mushroom. If it is starting to yellow a bit on the edges, in my own experience, it is better to eat fresh or dry rather than freeze them.

Work will keep me out of the woods over the next week and with the beautiful but very dry forecast, I fear that even the hens that are out there will soon dry up. All of the other mushrooms are already starting to do so, though we were able to scare up 3/4 of a pound of trumpets that had yet to succumb to the sunny days.