I’ve written about my treks into the woods seeking prized morel mushrooms. My guide was local mushroom whisperer and friend Chad Tillman. Our results were successful, certainly by my standards, and the morels were absolutely scrumptious.
I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting another year to sample Missouri’s mushroom bounty. Then Tillman told me I didn’t have to, inviting me to accompany him on a fall forage.
There would be no Morels, of course, as those tasty fungus only grow in the spring. However, there would be (hopefully) Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods, Chanterelles, Black Trumpets and Oyster mushrooms.
Honestly, I’d have taken any one of the bunch. As a first time fall forager, I wasn’t about to be picky.
So, into the woods we went on a cool, crispy Sunday afternoon. Tillman suggested we look around downed trees, which he said were the best places to find the prized Hen and Chicken of the Woods.
I looked up the definitions and descriptions for both prized ‘shrooms on the Missouri Department of Conservation website. Here’s what I found:
Hen of the Woods (Maitake)
“Looking like a ruffled chicken, the edible hen of the woods mushroom grows like large circular bouquet of spoon-shaped caps, each grayish brown on top and white beneath, emerging from a branching, whitish base. It grows on the ground at the base of oak trees.”
Chicken of the Woods (Chicken Mushroom)
“Pale chicken of the woods has layered, fan-shaped, fleshy caps that are orange to pinkish orange on top and white below. This edible fungus grows in overlapping clusters or rosettes on stumps, trunks, and logs of dead or dying deciduous trees, and on living trees and buried roots.”
Technical stuff aside, Tillman and I tramped around for about an hour, on and off foot paths, in, around and over stumps, logs and branches. We found one Hen of the Woods, at least it appeared to be one. But, Tillman said it was young growth, too young to harvest. So we left the “Chick” of the Woods where we found it, likely for someone else to discover in a week or so.
There were plenty of what Tillman called turkey tails, which apparently aren’t edible, but do possess some medicinal qualities. Unfortunately, I’m not interested in making mushroom tea. I wanted something to sauté, savor and serve over some steaks.
We did find something Tillman “thought” was edible, but he wasn’t sure. I’m sorry, that’s not worth taking a chance on. He was going to do a spore print, which would determine exactly what they were.
Even with that, I might just let him have those to sample as I wait for those Hen of the Woods to mature. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
Tillman promised one more trip into the woods, maybe later in the week. He seems to think the warmer temperatures we’re expecting might generate some additional mushroom growth. We’ll see.
For now, I’m left to remember those delicious Porcini mushrooms I had recently in Tuscany, but I’ll save that and a lot more for a later column.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.