Seasonal Alert: Honeys and Hens!

by Bill Bakaitis

It just goes to show how the collecting season varies here in the Northeast.

In Maine, where we had a poor mushroom season all year, the beginning of October brought with it a flush of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea complex) and the attendant Aborted Entoloma (Entoloma abortivum).  The Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosus) has not yet appeared on trees that I know and those that are found in Farmers Markets are pitiful fist sized, dried out specimens.  I anticipate the big flush in the next week to ten days, conditions permitting.

Meanwhile, in the Hudson Valley and Catskills of New York, which had a fabulous mushroom year, the Honeys began in Mid-September, right on cue, but most of the Hens remained in their underground coops for another fortnight.

Bill finding a fat hen, on a fat oak

Bill finding a fat hen, on a fat oak

They are out now: succulent, fragrant, and large – with what appears to be an attendant flush of young chicks following big momma. Bring your basket and go get ’em.

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  • Susan Scheid Said,

    We were lucky enough to be recipients of a Hen of the Woods from Bill, and I took a picture to send to my Mom, Betty Scheid, in California before breaking it apart to cook and eat. I thought you might enjoy what she wrote back:

    The Hen of the Woods is amazing! Do you think you might have some growing on your Oak trees? The Hen sandwich on cibatta described in the blog sounds absolutely delish. Will you use the frozen product you prepared over pasta, perhaps? I’ll be interested in knowing how you use it.

    What is the texture and flavor? As I read the blog I recalled going on mushroom hunts with my Mom and siblings in the various Cook County Forest preserves. We only collected Morels since they have no poisonous counterparts.

    Back home, we would dip them in a bowl of cold water to rinse out any little bugs or bits of debris. After drying them on a clean dish towel they were dusted with flour and fried in butter or bacon drippings. I was tasting them in my mind all the while I read about the Hen of the Woods. Leslie Land is a great blog and now resides in my bookmarks file.

  • Leslie Said,

    Greetings Sue – and welcome to you, Betty!

    In answer to your question… well, my answer anyway; I know it’s Sue you asked: Hen flavor is richly mushroom but light, more nutty than smoky. Texture is toothsome – not chewy exactly, but firm. They DO make great pasta sauce (though I can’t at the moment think of any good mushroom that doesn’t). Hens are also good browned in olive oil and then mixed with with green beans, cauliflower, winter squash… you can also shred the fronds and simmer them in chicken stock for a nice variation on chicken noodle soup.

    As for the morels, it’s hard to beat good old fried in butter or bacon (or duck) fat – but next time you get some you might like to try some Morel and Corn Sauce.

    Just please be sure it’s morels you have. Bill noticed “no poisonous look-alikes” and was moved to say “ Gyromitra is a toxic look-alike to morels in general and some people are sickened by eating Verpa bohemica (a look-alike to M. semilibra).”

    By me, gyromitra is different enough to be pegged if you’re paying reasonable attention, but the attention part is important. If you’re eager – and what morel hunter isn’t – you could mistake a gyromitra’s wrinkles for the pits that distinguish morels.

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