When Vince and I headed towards Green-wood Cemetery on Saturday I was armed with a modest paper bag and a paper sack, Just In Case. You never know. We had started to explore this park-like space a few months ago but our adventure had been cut short by a torrential summer cloudburst, and we had made it back to the subway wet to the skin.
Green-wood is huge, and is graced by the most beautiful trees I have seen in the city.
I have been keeping an eye out for hen of the woods, maitake, Grifola frondosa, for weeks in Prospect Park, but not a thing. The woods were bereft. And I have more than mixed feelings, now, about foraging at the base of large trees in that park. So when I saw these distinctive, dead leaf-like mounds on Saturday, far from that stomping ground, I yelped. Thrice cried she, as they appeared beneath three different trees, including beech. They are usually parasitic on oaks.
There's Vince's hand for scale. While there were no condoms, no human scat, and no dogs allowed (all unlike Prospect Park and good, good and good!) there was a lot of raccoon poo around one tree, which made the Frenchie particularly thoughtful. Well, I assume it's raccoon. Skunk?
*Update. Raccoon faeces can carry a parasite, very dangerous to humans. High heat kills its microscopic eggs if they are present, but always check the base of the tree to see if it used as a raccoon latrine. Clearly, the idea is avoid exposure.
Back at home. And no, we did not take all we found. I'll write another post about the blue mushrooms - blewits. Aren't they pretty? The three smaller hen clumps in the front are the first I collected, not realizing that I'd find younger, larger ones later.
As with many other mushrooms (even store-bought button mushrooms), studies find that maitake have anti-carcinogenic properties.
Here: a cross section of the largest clump, showing the woody heart. This is what I could not bear to waste, so I cut it up and started drying the slices in batches in a very low oven [sigh]. The test batch smelled nutty and inviting, and the dried slices had the texture of silky chips. I'll use them for making mushroom stock, and perhaps in risotto, too. The stock will be used for cooking rice for risotto, pasta (then reduced and added to the sauce), adding to stews as the cooking liquor, or reduced and used as a sauce-base.
I washed the cut up pieces in warm water with a lot of salt and some vinegar. I found no critters, but they had to be washed well, as there were bits of grit and grass inbetween the curls of the fungus.
I saved the "ears" for cooking and kept all the white bits for drying.
One trayful yielded a small, rustling cup of dried hen of the woods. Weighing them before and after, I found that they list 90% of their volume, exactly.
For our first mushroom supper I made a pizza. Why? Something about a Saturday. While the dough rose I sauteed the hens with butter, thyme and a little lemon.
Instead of using tomato sauce I made a white cheese sauce - adding finely grated parmigiano to a bechamel. To push it over the top I dotted that with pieces of buffalo mozzarella, and then added the sauteed mushrooms.
For our second mushroom dinner it was chicken, onion, whole garlic cloves, the mushrooms, bayberry leaves, a squeeze of lemon, a good slosh of dry vermouth, and the last of our chicken/rabbit/duck stock.
As I write this, there are four large bowls of cleaned hen of the woods waiting in the fridge. I have frozen two bagsful, and am not sure what to do with the rest. I'm not big fan of frozen food. But surely I'll be happy to have them in a dry month? And I will deliver within reason. Holler now if you're in the hood.
There are also three racks of mushroom slices drying in the oven, making the apartment smell wonderful, and probably quite unlike anyone's idea of a typical New York scent.
If June smells like linden blossoms, and August like Chinatown, then October smells like maitake.