A few weeks ago, our mushroom foraging friend, Rick advised our son, Will to keep an eye out for hen-of-the-woods mushrooms at the base of oak trees. Will, who is quite good at spotting things, eventually found a truly enormous one growing from the base of an oak tree at his grandma's house next door.
So we went for a walk in the woods to retrieve it a few days ago.
It was a beautiful, warm afternoon filled with the golden light of Fall. I am not at all religious but find it impossible to think about autumn's riotous colors and silent beauty in anything other than reverent terms - glorious, holy, hushed, brilliant, burning...
I wore my rain boots because they give me the illusion of invincibility - like I can go anwhere and do anything without getting my socks wet or bitten by ticks or scratched by thorns.
We went a little ways down the hill and Will pointed out his find. The mushroom was BIG. However, I've read that these mushrooms can grow to at least 50 pounds so it's all relative.
Will was very proud of his find. I was, too. Here he is with a little piece of the mushroom. I often ask him, "Why are you so cute?" and he always responds, "Because I'm yours," which has always impressed me since I think it basically sums it all up.
Hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa) is native to the northeastern U.S. as well as Japan where it is known as maitake - the "dancing mushroom" because people were supposedly so happy to find it that they would dance for joy.
It's not poetic but it reminds me of a brain - especially on the inside. And it was a surprise to find a few centipedes and a salamander curled up in one of the mushroom's little cavities. Luckily, it was not hard to relocate these guests.
The flavor is fantastic - so much depth and richness - it makes you realize that those white button mushrooms you get at the store taste like absolutely nothing except what you cook them with. Maitake is a pretty meaty mushroom and can stand up to long cooking. I like it cooked with some liquid to make it more tender. Thus far, we have eaten it sauteed with butter, garlic, thyme and oregano (MWAH, so good!) and also in a mushroom risotto (also delish.) And there's still quite a bit to use. I may end up freezing some.
In addition to tasting good, this mushroom seems to have both nutritional and medicinal benefits. It's rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, vitamin B2, D2 and niacin and amino acids. Memorial Sloan Kettering has done some clinical trials that indicate the mushroom has the power to stimulate certain types of immune cells. Maitake also appears to help regulate glucose levels which can be helpful in managing and preventing Type II diabetes. Paul Stamets wrote an interesting article about maitakes which goes into a little more depth.
Right now is a good time to look for hen-of-the-woods as they like warm days and cool nights. Look at the base of oaks, elms and maples (but mostly oaks) in the forest. And you needn't be afraid of accidentally poisoning yourself because there are no poisonous look-alikes. Which is always nice.
You might also like:
- Foraging -What To Look For, Where and When
- Grilled Portobello Burgers
- From Sap to Syrup - Adventures in Maple Sugaring