Mad about Maitake!

First Hen of the Season!
With the nights getting cooler, the air a little crisper, and leaves starting to turn and fall, autumn is definitely here! But with the season comes some fantastic treats! Chicken of the Woods is still hanging around, and one of my favorites, the Hen of the Woods.  Also known as Maitake, this mushroom starts sprouting up from around the beginning of September until as late as November depending on the weather in your area. After the first good week of cool nights is usually a good indicator of when to get out and start looking.
From what I gather from my own experience, and reading those of others, the Hen almost exclusively grows under oak trees, usually the large, older ones. Although, many have found them under Maple as well. They like banks, usually where water can runoff, and usually on the SW facing bank.  These guidelines aren’t set in stone, but they can lead you in the right direction.

The Hen of the Woods actually has no poisonous look-a-likes at all! In fact, they really don’t have any thing that looks like them. They come in all sizes and color variations. However, if you see a small cluster and have the time (and the patience!) leave it for about 4-6 days and it will be a LOT bigger when you return. Foragers have reported getting clusters of 50-100 pounds of this mushroom in one go! The colors can range anywhere from white to a dark grey, with the cap usually getting darker closer to the edging. They actually get darker as they are exposed to more sun! It’s a polypore (just like the Chicken of the Woods) which means it has no gills, but a smooth porous underside. It grows in big clusters, with each cap overlapping the one below. They get their name because they actually look like a ruffled hen! Be sure to cut carefully at the bottom, and next year, you may have a feast growing in the same spot!

Check out all the different color variations!

Sauteed up with some Chicken of the Woods!
The taste of these mushrooms is what makes them so sought after. I sauteed them in some butter and broth with some onions and a little chicken of the woods I found. They have a very meaty texture and flavor, and can almost be compared to a steak or a nice cut of beef. They hold up well, and add a woodsy, hearty flavor to any meal. They are also a great meat substitute, and can be prepared as such.
So, get out there now and start looking! And as always, happy hunting!