I keep my beloved retired horse at a farm that’s ringed with oak forests. One summer day, as I was paying my steed a visit, I looked off into the woods, and thought “mushrooms.”
The summer before, a friend of mine had found a good size hen of the woods. She showed it to me, and I convinced her to let me make a wild mushroom lasagna with it. The dish was a hit. I tried to remember exactly when that had transpired, but I wasn’t able to recall when she found that mushroom. I did remember that it was cool, however.
At home, I consulted Google, and ordered “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois” from Amazon. Happily, I learned that the season for Hens wasn’t yet upon us. I had a few weeks to wait.
The following weekend, when I went to check in on my horse, I took a walk through the woods. I noted dead and dying trees. My pulse quickened. I also saw a lot of nettles, burrs and poison ivy. Ugh.
The next few weeks were dry, and hot. Not a single fungus was to be seen, aside from a lichen here and there. I continued sallying forth, teaching my eyes to distinguish patterns on the forest floor, and to pick out lichens.
And then it rained.
I eagerly headed out, and found a gorgeous reward – a big, beautiful Hen of the Woods (also called maitake, or by its Latin name, Grifola Frodosa.) Reverently, I kneeled down, felt underneath it, and pulled it free. I strutted out of the wood with my prize, and went home to make a mushroom lasagne. (Cheesy, no tomato, just some spinach and ricotta filling, napped with bechamel and Parmesan.)
And that was just the beginning.