Friday, July 25, 2014

This is Not a Chicken Mushroom

This IS a chicken
One of our favorite wild mushrooms to hunt and eat is the Chicken Mushroom (if yellow pored, Laetiporus sulphureus, if white pored, Laetiporus cincinnatus). When harvested at the right stage of maturity, it has excellent texture and flavor, very similar to actual chicken. For a family of 2/3 vegetarians, like we are, it makes an awesome meat-replacer in many recipes like pot pies, tacos, in garlic sauce, and skewered. We actively search it out starting in the spring, all the way through the summer and into the autumn.

The yellow pored variety (Laetiporus sulphureus) causes brown heart rot in standing or fallen  hardwoods, so it often grows above ground or along a fallen log. Its wild yellow and orange colors are easy to spot at a distance, and the fruiting is often enormous, giving us enough for dinner for a few nights, some extra to freeze, and sometimes enough to make sausages with. They are real show-stealers at public events, when we talk about how delicious and versatile they are as food.

Gillian holding a white chicken, Laetiporus cincinnatus, this IS a chicken

The white pored variety (Laetiporus cincinnatus) causes butt or root rot of hardwoods, often oaks, so is found at the base of the tree. or not far from the tree growing from the underground roots. White chickens are seemingly more tender than the yellow ones, but we don't seem to encounter them as often. Many people claim they taste better than the yellow pored chickens, but we are equally happy to find either.

Personally it drives me a little batty when I hear people refer to them as chicken "of the woods". We already have Hen of the Woods (AKA maitake or Grifola frondosa),  and not everything we find in the wild is referred to as "of the woods". I don't hunt "chanterelles of the woods" or "porcini of the woods". Some people on Facebook groups are proposing we call the white chicken "Crab of the Woods" to differentiate it from the yellow pored variety, and I will not do it. Just because I do find it in the woods, it is not of the woods, and I have run into people at public events who have a misconception that anything titled "of the woods" means it is a choice edible.

NOT A CHICKEN, Black Staining Polypore, Meripilus sumstenei

Which brings us to the topic of this whole post, the black staining polypore, which some want to refer to as "Rooster of the Woods". Its correct name is Meripilus sumstenei and it closely resembles the European Meripilus giganteus; some older guidebooks use the European name mistakenly. Like its more-correct common name (which are just terrible to use due to regional misunderstandings and not official or scientific at all, but good when speaking to the public who can't handle the binomials) describes, it often stains black with handling and has many pores (polypore) on the undersides of the  fronds. Older specimens won't blacken as much or as quickly as younger, fresher ones. They grow as overlapping fronds coming from wood, sometimes from buried roots that are not immediately visible. They can be very pretty to see, and are often surprisingly bug-free.

NOT A CHICKEN, A big Meripilus sumstenei

Are they edible? Technically, yes. You will want to try it if you have a really young one, although it will blacken to an unappetizing degree while cooking. One mushroom club member has recommended grinding it and using it in a mushroom loaf application. I say I'll wait until I find something better. As it ages, it gets really fibrous and stringy and I can only imagine it will taste like eating a piece of shredded fabric. Their size also makes you want to eat it, because it would potentially feed a family for weeks!

Still NOT A CHICKEN, a baby Meripilus sumstenei looking deceptively orange

Gillian and a Berkeleys

At this time of year, mid-summer, we start seeing them proliferate. Hiking through the woods in search of choice edibles, we catch sight of the behemoths from the corners of our eyes and initially gasp with delight, for their overall shape resembles a chicken or maitake, but then logic takes over when we realize the color is wrong for a chicken and the season is too early for a maitake. You might even think you found a Berkeleys polypore (Bondarzewia berkleyi), which is another marginal edible, but the Berkeleys doesn't stain and is much less fibrous. Facebook mushroom ID pages are littered with posts asking if these are "Chicken of the Woods" and filled with people desperate to eat them. Even the identification tables at CVMS forays are heavy with the weight of black stainers found on site and brought from afar from our newest members who think they found chickens. Sorry to disappoint, but it's just another Meripilus. But never give up, because the odds are in your favor that by putting in all those miles and hours scouring the woods will eventually yield to you a real chicken, not the lesser pretenders.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Connecticut Boletes

July 2014, all found in one park in one hour
July and August are prime season for finding Boletes in our area of New England. CVMS holds a well attended educational day at the end of August in a local park, and the stars of the show are usually the collections of Boletes. Robert had chosen to study them, and works to identify finds using visual observations, smell, chemical tests, and his books. His favorite way to get to know the large amount of Bolete species in our area includes photographing them.

July is under way, so he'll be out in the field (and forest), looking for the edible, and inedible, beautiful, and sometimes confusing Boletes for the next two months. Wish him luck!

Xanthoconium affine

Likely an Strobilomyces that has been attacked by a Hypomyces