Friday, October 14, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Hen of the Woods

Immature Hen of the Woods
Same mushrooms, about 6 days later
Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) is a mushroom we are comfortable eating, and have a small bit of experience with. We got our first by bartering with Russ Cohen at a foraging walk, and then found a few old specimens later in that year. The taste and texture of this mushroom really impressed us, so we made it a point to search for them this year. Joining the CVMS and several online forums really helped with our research and gave us many ideas where to search for these culinary delights. Timing is important, along with habitat.

Hen of the Woods Stroganoff
Hens are also known as Sheep's Head, due to their fluffy appearance. They grows at the base of oaks and other deciduous trees from September to November, often reappearing each season for several years. They are parasitic to the tree, and will very slowly kill a tree by causing rot in the heartwood and sapwood. Hens generally are very common in the Eastern US, are present in the Midwest, and are not present in the West except for the Pacific Northwest. After we made an active search for them this year, we have found perhaps 35+ pounds of delicious mushrooms at several sites, always at the base of an oak. We have dried, frozen and cooked several recipes using the thinner fronds and the solid core. We search for hen of the woods by finding an established mixed forest, and Robert will use binoculars to search off trail at the base of large or dead oaks. Many times we stumble upon a tree with 3-7 clusters at its base by accident or directly on a trail. We determine its desirability based on appearance, age, and buggy-ness of the hen. Robert uses a knife to cut the main stem and trim any gross bits from the bottom, and we carry the intact hens out in a canvas grocery bag.

Spore Print

Hen of the Woods underside
Hen of the Woods is a polypore, meaning it has pores on its underside instead of gills. It appears as a large, clustered mass of greyish-brown, dry, spoon-shaped fronds. Each frond will vary in size depending on age, but can be a nub or up to 3" (7 cm) wide. The pores on the underside should be white, though they will yellow with age. The stems or stalks are tough and off center, or usually attached to the sides of the fronds. The spore print is white. Clusters of hens may weigh up to 100 pounds, but most are around 5 pounds each. The core stem will be solid, without fibers, and works well in recipes if ground like meat or marinated. There are no dangerous look-alikes.

Hen of the Woods Tapenade
Hen of the Woods is considered a choice edible, due to its excellent firm, meaty texture and mild mushroomy taste. We have made a tapenade, calzones, consommé, pasta sauces, steak toppings, and just eat this mushroom sautéed with butter on toast. The Japanese call this mushroom maitake, and use it to enhance the immune system in cases of cancer, to regulate blood pressure, glucose and insulin. 


Gretchen Steele said...

You are fast becoming one of my most favorite blogs!
Hens are really starting in earnest here in the midwest - picked 55# today - one single was 38.9 pounds! We left several small ones to go back to in day or two as well - especially enjoy all of your delicious recipes! Keep up the great blogging!

Trout MaGee said...

Wow thanks for all the great info on this mushroom. I am usually to afraid to eat mushrooms other than morels from the forest. It's good to know there are no dangerous look alikes. I have a bunch of Oaks nearby and am excited to go search for them. I love mushrooms. Thanks for sharing.

Trout MaGee said...

Awesome post. I love mushrooms but am usually to afraid to forage for them. Good to know that there are no poisonous look alikes. I have a bunch of Oaks nearby that I can't wait to check out. Thanks for sharing.

Kristina said...

Looks delicious! I wish I had more time to forage outside of my property.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much 2 things that look something like it. Berkeley's polypore, Bondarzewia berkeleyii, is more tan & has much larger fronds, and Meripileus sumsteinii, blackening polypore, fronds are flatter and wider, and they turn black within a few minutes after you cut or scratch them. Both are edible, but tougher and not as good.

Feral Boy

beauty said...

I think your emotions in your blog are completely honest to you and your friends/readers. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I love mushrooms but never bothered to pick wild ones. I heard that hen of the woods also grow in is a great blog, btw-allyson

Anonymous said...

Can they be white?

The 3 Foragers said...

Based upon the date, and lack of photos, I would guess you have found something else. Maybe Berkeleys polypore or Meripilus?

CRM said...

Do this grow in southeastern Louisiana does anyone know

Anonymous said...

What mushroom is chicken of the woods look alike found today June:20 in North Oaks Minnesota in a lawn on oak tree root, orange top but white underside. Isn't it too early for chick/wds?