A bowl full of orecchiette pasta at the Modern Cafe last weekend reminded me that fall is in full force. It wasn’t the pasta; it wasn’t the tender braised beef; it wasn’t the flakes of melting parmesan; it was the chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that reminded me that fall mushroom season is upon us.
Laetiporus, known as chicken-of-the-woods or sulfur shelf mushrooms, are harvested from hardwood tree trunks in both deciduous and coniferous regions of Minnesota between August and October. Mild in flavor, meaty in texture, chicken-of-the-woods is as versatile as its namesake, which makes it a great mushroom for sauces, stews, or pasta dishes. For a simple preparation, sauté the chicken-of-the-woods with butter, garlic, shallots, salt, and pepper for five to seven minutes, toss with fresh pasta, and top with shavings of Shepherd’s Way Friesago cheese.
Grifola frondosa, known as maitake or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, are another mushroom variety making an appearance this time of year. Like chicken-of-the-woods, hen-of-the-woods often grows in the same place for a number of years in succession. While it’s meaty in texture like the chicken-of-the-woods, hen-of-the-woods has an earthier flavor. Valued for its flavor, and rich in vitamins B1, B2, D, as well as vegetable fiber, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are flavorful when roasted whole, stir-fried with bitter greens and other wild mushrooms, or battered and deep fried, tempura style.
Both can be found in the wild, or in co-ops around the Twin Cities (if you intend to forage for mushrooms, precaution is required—take a look at the Minnesota Mycological Society’s website for more information). Whether foraging in the wild or shopping at the co-op, avoid any woody specimens, and go for the tender pieces. And while you’re carting them home, know that you’re part of an ancient tradition. After all, edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000-year-old ruins in South America!