Monday, January 9, 2017

Maitake Mushrooms: "Hen of the Woods"

Every year, for almost 5 years, I had walked by the same clump of mushrooms underneath the same big ol' oak tree without ever knowing I was walking by GOLD!

Who knew I would be impatiently waiting for their return every year after that.
I was first introduced to eating them at a local farm where I was working, when the owner had given me the stems all ground up and asked me to toss them under every large oak tree I could find to spread the spores.
Thus began my adventure in researching this amazing little (or should I say GIANT) mushroom.
I had know idea that they were not only a delicious wild edible, but it was also prized for its highly medicinal purposes.
Although most of the studies on this shroom are still in the early stages, they show a LOT of promise.
Promise in controlling or even curing Cancers.  Especially breast, liver, and lung cancers.
Promise in helping to control diabetes.
Promise in controlling high cholesterol and high blood pressure 

Complex carbohydrates in these mushrooms known as polysaccharides (specifically beta-D-glucans) help to boost the immune system.

There are countless ways that this mushroom can be eaten, but I have to say, my personal favorite is to just throw some fronds in a pan with a nice glob of butter and sautee them. So delicious, so simple!
We also add it to stir fry, seared veggies, soups, and burgers. 
But again, limitless here!

When I first get them home, I make sure to slice off the lower parts of the stem and clean any debris that is visible. Then, piecing apart these shrooms is as easy as peeling apart a block of string cheese.
You can grab the fronds individually and tear them downwards towards the stem. (See picture above)
They are so much cleaner than morels.
They texture is similar to if you were tearing apart a whole chicken that has cooled, after slow cooking all day in a crock pot.

The fronds can be frozen without any other preparation, other than cleaning.
or they can be dried/dehydrated.
When dehydrating, the mushrooms are done drying, when they snap like a cracker. They should not be "bendy" at all.
If they are not completely dried, they will turn black and rot. (I know.....mushrooms....rotting, Haha)

You know, I'm actually a pretty FUN - GI!!!!
Stay with me here.

So where Do I find this Mushroom?

Ok, so, you know how finding morels can sometimes be really frustrating?
Ya,   FIFTY times more frustrating.
So far I have only found them under a few old oak trees which are half dead already. And I have covered a LOT of ground searching for them.
Although oak is the typical location of these giants, they have also been found under other types of trees as well.
They average anywhere from 10-15 pounds, with 30-40 pound shrooms not uncommon.  
There have even been mushrooms in the 80-100 pound range, although much more rare.

Around my area, these mushrooms sell for almost $20.00/pound, so finding a 30-40 pound haul can net quite a bit of cash if you can resist the temptation of devouring them.
The Lot of Maitake in the cover photo was almost 40 pounds and they were all found under 1 tree.
That's almost $800.00 worth of fungus folks.
Even at the lower end price of $10/pound, It would have netted almost $400, had we not decided to eat most of it. 

They are nicely camouflaged tight to the ground. Also referred to as "Hen of the Woods", they can appear to look like a hen chicken all fluffed out on a nest of little chicks.
They are greyish or yellowish in color.

If you are lucky to find any, Note the tree where you found it. As this is a parasitic mushroom, which feeds off of the tree itself, slowly killing it, you can bet you will find them again the next year, and the next, and the next.....
They are typically found in the northeastern U.S. and Canada in the fall. (I find them typically ready to harvest in mid to late Oct.)
They are also found in Japan, China and Europe

Unlike morels which pop up overnight and seem to become inedible within a few days, Maitake might take a few weeks of walking past them before they are ready to harvest. so keep a close eye on them and watch the haul grow bigger and bigger each day.

Maitake Mushroom:  (grifola frondosa)  "the dancing mushroom"