Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hen of the Woods

The maitake mushroom, or hen-of-the-woods is a great beginner's mushroom.  Mostly because it's hard to mistake anything else for these monsters.  It is also quite easy to find (sometimes by tripping over them).  The one you see here was growing at the base of a large sliver maple in my front yard, along with three others.  You will notice a quarter in the upper-left of the photo for size reference.  This example weighed around 8 pounds.

Pull the whole thing out of the ground, and then get to work cleaning.  A small sharp knife and a little running water is all you will need.  Cut any dirt or grass out and work your knife around the toughest parts.  These things grow at such an alarming rate that they surround whatever is in their way as they grow, so you may find embedded twigs, grass, or pine needles in them.  After creating a pile of cleaned cut-up maitake you can use them like ordinary mushrooms.  They are a little tougher than regular mushrooms, but I actually like the texture.  I like to brown them with onions in butter first before using.

I have read all sorts of methods for preserving these, but I found a site that said to simply freeze them immediately after cleaning and drying in plastic freezer bags.  I have done this, and I can verify it works just fine.  If you find more than one try to leave one to seed the area for next season, or if there is only one, leave a portion to mature so you can enjoy these year after year.  I'm sure you will agree that the maitake is an excellent mushroom.