a girl never forgets her first mushroom
For most of my life, I actively disliked mushrooms. Then one day in Central Park, on a foraging walk with Leda Meredith, I spotted a flash of orange on a tree and asked if it might be Chicken of the Woods. I must have read about its vibrant color scheme somewhere; this bracket fungus is one of the easiest fungi to identify. We brought it back to my place, sautéed it in butter with some field garlic (also harvested from the park), and a mycophile was born.
Every fall since then I keep my eyes open for Chickens. Depending on several variables, especially rainfall, they may show up earlier or later than usual. This big boy cropped up near home in late August, but it was too far gone by the time I discovered it.
Then, last weekend, as Mark and I left the Silverberry Patch, he slammed on the brakes. "Why?" I asked. He thought he'd seen a glimpse of orange, and we both knew what that meant.
This chicken was young, tender, and succulent. While I've always loved the taste of Chicken of the Woods, I sometimes find the texture a little dry. Not this time. It was so soft and plump it made my pulse race.
Sunday morning I preserved the harvest three ways: large pieces sautéed with chopped onions in olive oil; medium pieces combined with fennel seed and more onions, also in olive oil; and finely chopped stems with garlic, cooked in butter and olive oil, i.e. duxelles.
Chicken of the Woods is best preserved sautéed and frozen, so all three preparations went into the freezer. Except for a goodly portion of the duxelles which made a very tasty omelette indeed.
Am I sentimentally inclined to favor the Chicken? Probably. It was one of my first foraging finds. But if it weren't delicious, I wouldn't get so excited every fall when the rains come.