|Chicken of the Woods stretched out on a downed oak|
The "chicken of the woods" mushrooms are one of the most recognizable mushrooms that appear across the woods from August through November. You can stack these gems up like firewood, because when you find one, they usually grow in large quantity; one chicken clump from last year we were lucky to find stretched from ground level to 20'-30' up in the old dead oak tree and totaled 40+ lbs. The key with chickens is to catch them when they are very young and bright orange; younger chickens will be much more tender and less wormy (chickens are usually pretty buggy which ups the protein levels!). As the name would suggest, chickens taste like chicken and also have a very similar texture when pan fried like a chicken breast. Chickens prefer to grow on dead oaks, and you can up your odds by taking the dogs for an early season tune-up through some oak stands. Watch for the bright orange growing on dead trees, and they will be hard to miss! In regards to cooking, treat them like chicken instead of mushrooms and you'll be very happy with the results, and they make a great vegetarian substitute for chicken!
|Good sized, fresh lobster mushroom|
|Lobster pushing up through the pine needles.|
|Lucky find with this beautiful fresh "hen of the woods" aka "Maitake"|
The great fabled fungi variety of myth and legend would be the "Hen of the Woods," aka "Maitake" not to be confused with "Chicken of the Woods." Hens are by far our favorite, but they can be much more difficult to find in some areas. Hens are named for their appearance, being of similar coloration to many game birds, with subtle tans and greys in feather-like 'mushroom petals' growing in a clump. They grow around the bases of large mature oak and some other hardwood species such as maple. Hens are renowned for their flavor and health benefits, and thankfully they grow in larger clumps so when you do actually find one you get some quantity! They tend to grow in the same places year after year so you can develop a nice little milk run as you dial in on some spots. It doesn't get any better than a few venison medallions cooked medium rare with some pan fried hen of the woods mushrooms on top, or a luxurious Canadian bacon, jalapeno, and hen of the woods pizza. Yum.
There are many more fall mushroom varieties you can safely harvest in the fall, but these three are great 'gateway mushrooms' for their ease of identification. Get out following rain and cold fronts as these are big triggers for mushrooms to really pop up in the fall. Research the mushroom species carefully, and to be safe, talk to a mushroom expert to get on the right track. Be extremely cautious when harvesting and eating wild mushrooms as many are very poisonous, but do not let that word of caution discourage you because a small amount of knowledge can fill up your game bag well before the highly anticipated seasons make their way across the calendars!
Fungi, fur or feathers, good hunting!