Foraging, processing and preserving tips for mushroom hunters
Our first foraged Hen of the Woods. Auburn, MA October 2021.
By Christy Bassett, Homesteader at Barefoot All Natural Farm
Earlier this month, we found our first Hen of the Woods mushroom. I had seen photos of people stumbling across them during walks in the woods, or heard of others suddenly noticing a giant fungal growth in their backyard and then wondering aloud what the heck it was. Like them, I felt a surge of excitement when I recognized the greyish brown fronds of this giant mushroom, but also a deep seated hesitation that my identification could be wrong and we were about to poison ourselves, mixed with a pang of guilt that we shouldn’t be taking quite so much from nature.
Luckily, with the popularity of posting these mushrooms on social media, experience with a community-led mushroom identification group and plenty of Googling, I had learned that this particular mushroom variety is fairly easy to identify and does not have any toxic look-alikes in the Northeastern US. I had also learned that the visible part of the mushroom that grows above ground is the fruiting body of a deeper-rooted mycelium, and that removing this upper portion does not inhibit the functionality of the organism or its ability to regrow next year. (Think of picking a tomato from a tomato plant.) From what I understand, it’s likely that the “root” fungus will fruit again in the same place for 5-7 years. So, with most of my fears alleviated, we harvested this beautiful specimen.
Cleaned and separated Hen of the Woods mushroom pieces.
Hen of the Woods is also known as Grifola frondosa, Maitake, Dancing Mushroom, Cloud Mushroom, Ram’s Head or Sheep’s Head. It is commonly found near the base of oak trees in late summer and early fall. The one that we found was large, with two smaller fruits near it. Sometimes you can find up to five fruits at the base of one tree, all living off of connections with the tree’s root system.
Once we decided that it was okay to harvest the mushroom and brought it home, the real adventure began. We used a dry brush to clean the soil and any other debris from the mushroom, and then stored it in the refrigerator in a reusable mesh shopping bag. It is important not to get the mushroom wet or seal it in an airtight container when it’s fresh, since humidity and condensation can turn the mushroom slimy and begin the decomposition process.
Of course we froze some of the mushroom whole and dried some of the pieces in the dehydrator for use in winter soups and stir fry’s. But with over 12 lbs. to process, we needed more ideas to preserve the bounty. Read on for some of the recipes that we settled on.
Maitake Mushroom Jerky
Maitake Mushroom Jerky
This marinated mushroom jerky is packed with flavor and travels well for snacks on the go. Just be careful not too eat too much at once- as the mushrooms rehydrate in your stomach you can feel overly full in no time at all.
Makes about 2 cups of finished jerky
Time until complete: 7-12 hours
- 2 lbs freshly foraged maitake mushroom
- 1 cup organic apple cider
- ¼ cup organic coconut aminos
- ¼ cup worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup maple syrup or honey
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- ¼ cup fresh dill
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
Marinated mushroom pieces before drying
- ½ tsp fermented hot chili sauce
- Clean the mushroom by gently brushing it with a dry soft bristled dish brush or toothbrush.
- Pull apart fronds in large pieces, about ½” thick, and chop the stem to a similar size. Rinse the pieces to remove any lingering soil or debris.
- Chop herbs and garlic and mix with the rest of the ingredients, except for the mushroom.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add mushroom pieces. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain. (Reserve the liquid to use as a vegetarian broth or soup base in another recipe.)
- Add cooked mushroom to the marinade mix and refrigerate 6-8 hours, or overnight.
- Strain mushroom from the marinade and remove any large bits of herbs or garlic.
- Place marinated mushrooms on a dehydrator tray and space out pieces so that they are not overlapping.
- Dehydrate at 130 degrees F for 6-12 hours, or until the mushrooms are dried but still flexible.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Umami is a category of taste in food that many of us are unfamiliar with. Besides sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, umami is the savory sensation that ties dishes together and adds “that little something extra”. Unfortunately the typical way to add umami to prepared dishes is to incorporate synthetic monosodium glutamate, or MSG. However, many mushrooms carry the umami flavor profile naturally and you can add “that little something extra” to your dishes by keeping a jar of mushroom powder handy.
Umami powder can also be used as a breadcrumb substitute, as a sauce or soup seasoning, or as a topical sprinkle to enhance flavor, like you would use salt or pepper on popcorn or your favorite meal. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly until you find your favorite ratio.
Time until complete: 4-6 hours
- Clean and chop mushroom
- Dehydrate at 130 degrees F for 4-6 hours, or until completely dry
- Add dehydrated mushrooms to a blender or food processor and blend until a fine powder is formed.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup Base
Homemade condensed cream of mushroom soup base
How many times have I wished I had a nutritious alternative to the commercial condensed cream of mushroom soup? So many times! This simple recipe can be made ahead of time and frozen, or whipped up in a flash for use in other recipes.
Makes about 2 cups of condensed soup base
Time until complete: 20 minutes
- 2 cups chopped maitake mushrooms (small leftover stem pieces work perfectly for this recipe.)
- 1 ½ cups mushroom broth (use from leftover boiled water from Maitake Mushroom Jerky recipe if you have it.)
- 1 cup raw organic whole milk
- ½ cup organic flour
- 2 Tbs butter
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- Sea salt to taste
Thickened mixture ready for cooling and storing.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft.
- Whisk milk and flour together in a small bowl. Add to the vegetables in the saucepan and stir to combine. Add salt if desired. (I add a pinch now and then season to taste when preparing to eat.) Cook for about 1 minute, or until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat.
- Store condensed soup base covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
- To make soup, add equal parts prepared soup base and water, milk or mushroom broth (i.e. 2 cups condensed soup base plus 2 cups water) and heat, stirring constantly, until the desired temperature is reached.
Have you found and/or harvested Hen of the Woods before? We’d love to see your photos and hear your foraging and preparing stories. Email email@example.com or post in the NOFA/Mass Community Facebook group to share your finds!
Here are some photos submitted by NOFA/Mass Community members.
Some beautiful shots from Hannah Traggis:
From John Duke, found in Enfield, NH on the base of a grandfather Oak:
From Marj Bailey, found in Charlton, MA at the end of September 2021: