I’ve been studying mushrooms for a while now, but this is the first year I’ve had the opportunity to harvest and eat fresh mushrooms that I’ve picked myself! Honestly, there are few things better in this world than a fresh Chicken of the Woods (Sulfur Shelf) mushroom. I have had Chicken of the Woods only once before, and have oggled them in books many times, but this year was my first chance at harvesting them and enjoying them fresh. Chicken of the woods, I was taught, is one of the “foolproof” mushrooms, in that its a beginner mushroom that is easy to identify and tastes delicious.
Last week, a friend and I were driving down the road when he spotted it–a bright mass of mushrooms, 5 or so feet up the trunk. Excitedly I stopped the car and we got out, laughing and rejoicing at our lucky find. After confirming that the mushroom was Chicken of the Woods, we took pictures and carefully harvested the mushrooms. Here we are!
Chicken of the Woods most typically grows on dead oak trees. The tree identification is actually really important for this species; there’s a very similar variety that grows on dead hemlock trees that can cause stomach upsets (more about that here). Where I live in Michigan, however, we have an abundance of oak and no hemlock, so we are in good shape in terms of finding these rare gems. For more photos of the mushroom itself, you can go here.
To harvest chicken of the woods, you want to harvest the tender bottom parts of the mushrooms–as they are softest. The harder bits are too chewy to eat, and if you leave most of the mushroom on the tree, you can come back for a later harvest that season (and certainly that following year). We are experimenting with the bits that were too chewy that we harvested for a mushroom broth (more on if that will turn out later…other wild mushrooms, like Dryad’s saddle that I was harvesting earlier in the year, have this same problem.)
After we harvested the delicious Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, we took it back to my house, cleaned it up, cut it up, and ate a bunch of it (and froze some more). These freeze well and can go into many different dishes. They honestly do taste a lot like chicken and have a wonderful meaty texture!
**Disclaimer – you need to have someone knowledgeable with you if you plan on harvesting mushrooms. Looking at books and websites is not sufficient–identification of mushrooms can lead to fatalities. The information here is only for informational purposes; please seek out a local mycology club or mushroom hunter guild for direct, experiential guidance! :)**