September 2002 Newsletter
Morel Mushroom Hunting Club
""Hen Of The Woods"
written by : Judy Johnson, (a member since the beginning)
edited by: Chris Matherly
Photos By: Judy Johnson
GRIFOLA FRONDOSA: HEN OF THE WOODS OR MAITAKE
"Grifola frondosa" is also known as "hen of the woods" or "maitake" and is a delicious fall mushroom. It is a large clustered mass of flattened caps attached to a central stem, and can reach as large as a basketball. It is a gray-brown color and blends in well with fallen leaves, hence its name, hen of the woods. Maitake is the Japanese name for this mushroom and it is now cultivated in Japan where it is highly prized as an edible mushroom. There have cooking contests with noted Japanese chefs on the food network and their task was to prepare Maitake mushrooms.
Grifola frondosa grows at the base of deciduous trees, most notably oaks. When out this fall, we found them at the base or within a few feet of red, white and bur oaks as well as dead oaks. Apparently it grows at the base of other deciduous trees but I have found them around oaks only. When you find one, be sure to note where it is located since it will grow there again in the future. It always surprises me how difficult it is to find a tree the next year when I’m looking the next year. This is the first year we have noted the location of our mushroom finds with a GPS and will try and locate them again next year.
Fall is the time to look for hen of the woods. In Minnesota it starts to grow about one month before the leaves change color which is early September. The season seems to be about one month long and mushrooms can be found after the first frost. I have no idea how long it takes these mushrooms to grow to their large size but they do get bug and dirt infested easily and in my experience, some of the later mushrooms have fewer bug problems.
To find hen of the woods, just go out to an area that is predominantly oak trees. Then circle around the tree and search for the mushroom within three feet of the tree. Because of its coloring, it does blend in with the forest floor but, if you’ve looked for other mushrooms, you’ll have the eyes for this mushroom. You’ll need to look around 40 to 80 trees to find one hen of the woods. I find that burrs and weed seeds are more of an irritation than when looking for morels so be sure to wear thicker jeans or pants. My thighs have been itchy and irritated when I have worn light weight pants and gone through a patch of stinging nettles. The area where I found the most hen of the woods is flatter and a bit wetter but friends have found them on hill sides as well.
Bring a jack knife when picking this mushroom. When I look for morels I can use my fingernails to pinch off the stem when picking but hen of the woods you’ll need a knife to dislodge the base. There is a fair amount of dirt, stems and debris that grow into this mushroom so I “field dress’ with the knife it before I put it in a sack. Cut off areas filled with dirt, these areas are not worth keeping. Unlike morels, I use larger plastic bags when I pick hen of the woods. I put them in separate bags to prevent bruising to the caps. If the mushroom is covered with a white secondary fungus note the location but leave it and try again next year. The secondary fungus causes a bitter taste and again, is not worth the bother.
(Picture of hen of the woods with secondary fungus)
To clean this mushroom, wash it in the sink with the water running lightly. Separate the caps and pick out the dirt and debris with a knife or your finger nails. Be sure to have some distraction such as the TV on since it takes as long to clean this mushroom as find it! Cut out any woody stems, secondary fungus or dirt filled sections. The older sections of the mushroom have a more “wild” taste that may or may not appeal to you.
You can cook the hen of the woods like you would a morel. I sauté it with shallots and a generous amount of butter. I then cover with toasted bread crumbs and freeze it. I’ll stuff a goose with this at Thanksgiving. To store this mushroom, it is suggested to either freeze it or dry it.
Two above photos by: Pam Kaminski
As stated earlier, this mushroom has been cultivated. There is a suggestion that hen of the woods may have anti-viral and anti-cancer benefits as well. A few web sites are noted for further information.
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