Does anybody know what this is?
Bet you weren't expecting a pop quiz on wild fungi first thing in the morning, but I'll make mushroom foragers out of you yet. You've seen this before on this blog. It's a hen of the woods. Not a chicken of the woods. That's different. A hen of the woods is a ruffly mass that grows at the base of oak trees. It has pores on the underside instead of gills, and has no poisonous look-alikes. It usually grows back year after year in the same place. It is also amazingly delicious and doesn't make me vomit. In other words, A-list material.
Ever since a kind stranger bestowed upon me a hen of the woods last year (when I made that amazing celery root and wild mushroom lasagna), I've been trying to find one of my very own. I thought I found such a specimen over the summer, but it was growing on protected land (and people were looking), so I couldn't take it home. Then, a few weeks ago, I went on a group mushroom walk with Lawrence Millman. He just came out with a new mushroom book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, which is beautifully illustrated and written with a certain amount of wit. He brought us around the woods of Drumlin Farm and pointed out all kinds of fungi I hadn't seen before, like stinkhorns and white pine splotch. He seemed to have a particular fascination with slime molds, which I did not share.
On our way back, though, something caught my eye. I nearly peed my pants on the spot because some distance off the path was the most beautiful hen of the woods I've ever seen. It looked like two hens nestled together and it was pristine. Pristine, I tell you! I got out my trusty camera and proceeded to fumble around with the controls, including white balance, ISO, and the critical equilibrium between aperture and shutter speed, during which time the battery died. I shit you not. It died at that very moment. Meanwhile, people must have noticed that I found something camera-worthy because they made a beeline straight for it. A few of them started ripping pieces off of it to get a better look at the pores. I had to stab myself in the leg with my pen to keep from shrieking STOP!! DON'T MANGLE IT, GODDAMNIT. LEAVE IT ALONE!!! (Sheesh, Tammy, possessive much?) Finally, I flung myself on top of it using my body as a human shield. At this point, someone took note of the emotional pitch and I was politely reminded that this, too, was protected land and the mushroom should not be removed. But it's a farm, I said! A farm! And that's when a team of horses was harnessed to my belt loops and dragged me away, limp and pouting. Oh, Drumlin, you big tease!
Luckily, a nice young lady snapped a photo of the mushroom before it got too mangled and she sent me the link. See how pretty? You can tell somebody else took that photo because it's sharp and well lit. It takes more than battery power to take a photo like that.
Anyway, I've been on a mission these past few weeks to find a hen of the woods I can actually bring home and cook. In fact, I found two! BUT one was well past its prime, and the other, pictured above, was way too maggoty for me to actually eat. I considered it, I really did, but even I have some standards. Oh well. At least next year I'll know to return to the coordinates of those exact locations. And this time, I'll be all decked out in camouflage with my pocketknife in my teeth and a wild look in my eyes and no one will dare stop me!!!