I love spring, but I also love fall. It’s hard to decide which my favorite is. Spring brings new life. Trees begin to green, flowers start showing their beauty, and of course morels start poking their way through the earth’s surface. But autumn has its advantages as well, fall mushrooms.
Every spring Americans cannot wait for spring to arrive for morel mushroom hunting. What many hunters do not know that fall is the time of year for Hen of the Woods, aka Maitake mushrooms. I love morels, but I love Hen of the Woods even more. They are a little richer than morels, but I believe that’s what makes them taste better.
Having had a good fall mushroom season, and still finding them, my freezer has several gallons of fried ‘shrooms that my family and I will be able to enjoy all year long. If you’re lucky, you may find a fruiting Hen of the Woods as big as forty or fifty pounds. Here’s a list of some of the many good things about Hen of the Woods fall delight.
1) Fabulous flavor
2) A firm texture that lends itself to almost any culinary application
3) It is usually bug free, at least inside the flesh. You have to pick over it, but unless it is over the hill you will not find much in the way of bug larvae.
4) Easy to store: Just chop this one up into what size pieces you like to cook with and store them in freezer bags in the freezer without any par-boiling, etc.
5) It’s good for you! Studies are beginning to reveal immune enhancing and cancer-preventing properties.
Description: Widely variable in color, from pure white to tan to brown to gray. It appears to get darker on direct sunlight (just like we do). Large overlapping leaf-like fronds grow in brushy clusters that get larger with time. Each frond is from a half to four inches across and is usually darker to the outward edges of the caps. The entire fruiting body can be as big as several feet across. The underside of individual caps consists of a pure white pore surface. Hen of the Woods is a polypore, a mushroom which disperses its spores from pores as opposed to gills. The pores are close together and tiny, almost difficult to see. The caps are firm and juicy. The stem is thick firm, white and branched. The spore print is white.
Hen of the Woods Mushrooms fruits anytime from early September to late November and seems to be triggered by the first cold nights of the end of summer. It’s found mostly with dead or dying Oak trees often at the bottom around the trunk, however you can find them under dead Maple trees. They’re often hard to see, because their color can blend in with fall leaves. But when you find one, it could be bigger than you want to handle yourself. Look for a large rosette with spoon or fan-shaped caps. Once you find one, go back the next year and you’re likely to find one again. Hens of the Woods are a meaty mushroom, delicious in soups or my favorite below.
1 pound Hen of the Woods Mushroom
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (no stems), finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Brush any soil off mushrooms; cut mushrooms into 1-inch dice. Melt butter with oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When butter stops sizzling, add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add shallots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté 2 minutes and serve.
Not able to wait for spring morels? Try the fall mushrooms that are abundant this time of year. It’s so much fun to go looking for the mouth-watering delicatessens, but it’s very important to be certain that what you have is really what you think it is and not a poisonous look-alike. Sometimes we’re so excited to get back out in the woods in search of mushrooms that we get too anxious and don’t make a positive identification of what we’re picking. Please make sure you do.
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