It’s a toss-up. I love spring when it comes. But I also love autumn when it arrives. Which do I like best? It’s hard to say. Both give me a sort of high, an adrenaline rush. Spring with its rebirth of nature, seeds emerging into living plants, flowers popping with magical color and morels scooting their little bodies up out of the earth. But autumn—there is something crunchy and fresh and exhilarating about autumn. There are also more edible mushrooms in autumn than any other season.
Many people only think of morels when they think of edible Missouri mushrooms. But autumn brings so many other good and easy-to-find edibles. Did you ever hear of hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa), blewits (Lepista nuda) or lobsters (Hypomyces lactoflourum)? These are choice fall mushrooms. You might even find some lingering chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius, C. lateritius), chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulpheurus, L. cincinnatus), black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) or oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus). These are wonderful mushrooms that fruit earlier in the season, but can also fruit in the fall.
It’s so much fun to go looking for these prizes. But it’s very important to be 100 percent sure of what you have as there are a number of poisonous look-alikes. We are all so eager to find the good edibles that sometimes we overlook the perfect identification.
Hen of the Woods
Hen of the woods love oak trees. They grow at the bottom around the trunk. Often they are hard to see, because their color can blend in with fall leaves. But when you find one, it may be enough for a small army. Look for a large rosette with spoon or fan-shaped caps. Hens are hearty and meaty and make a wonderful mushroom soup.
Hearty “Hen” Soup
by Maxine Stone • Serves 4-6
- 2 cups onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 cups Hen of the Woods, sliced
- 1–2 teaspoons dill weed
- 1½ cups plus ½ cup vegetable stock or water
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 1–2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped parsley (optional)
- Thick Greek yogurt (optional)
Sauté the onion in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, dill, ½ cup stock or water, tamari and paprika. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.