Tag Archives: chicken of the woods

Drought over, and the late summer fungi are out

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

13/08/2018

Just a quick update on the weather and fungi conditions.

The last couple of days have seen another generous helping of rain in south-east England, and the first clear evidence that the fungi are back. And in fact the omens are positive, and right now I’d tentatively guess we’re in for a good autumn as far as fungi are concerned. This afternoon I visited a location I’ll be running some new events at this autumn. Details are available via the link at the top of this page, the area is called “Mill Wood”, and it is the site of a woodland pig farm that has been reclaimed by nature for the last four years, plus some adjacent land. We found plenty of Brittlegills (mainly Charcoal Burners), a Blusher, some boletes, a couple of very young Chicken of the Woods, a large flush of Common Puffballs just coming through and a lot of White-laced Shanks (all edible). There were also a few other, inedible bits a pieces. That’s not bad at all for August 13th after an extended spell of extremely hot and dry weather.

Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha)

Chicken of the Woods is fruiting abundantly now

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

12/05/2018

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), near Hastings, May 2018

Judging by the large number of photos currently being posted from every corner of the country, 2018 is shaping up to be a classic year for Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). If you’ve never found it and always wanted to try it, right now is the time to go looking. Chicken of the Woods is an unmistakable bright orange-yellow bracket fungus with a strong and pleasant smell of something like mushroomy-chicken. The only thing people easily confuse it with is Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus), which is greyer, larger, lacks the chicken smell and bruises black (and it’s not poisonous). COTW can be found growing on a variety of dead and living trees, especially oak, cherry, chestnut and yew. Some people claim it is poisonous when growing on yew, but there’s no actual evidence to support this theory and I have eaten it from yew on

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), near Hastings, May 2018

numerous occasions. May is typically when it starts fruiting, although it sometimes fruits again

in the early autumn. It is best eaten after its initial yellow “blob stage”, as soon as it has developed into brackets, but before if starts to get tough (at which point it becomes sour, and then bitter).

There’s many ways you can cook it, but my favourite is a cream and herb sauce.

Chicken of the Woods in cream and herb sauce, garnished with Adria Bellflowers

Ingredients (quantities to taste):

Fresh Chicken of the Woods
Fresh thyme (chopped)
Fresh chives (chopped)
Double cream
A little parmesan, grated
Salt and Pepper

Method:

Slice the Chicken of the Woods thickly.
Fry gently for 6 or 7 minutes in a 50/50 mixture of olive oil and butter. Turn regularly, do not burn.
Add the herbs and fry for another 30 seconds.
Add the cream and parmesan and continue cooking gently for another 3 minutes.
Season to perfection, and serve immediately.

Chicken of the Woods / Dryad’s Saddle / April 2014

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715

24/04/2014

It’s a hard life.  Day after day traipsing around lush woodland cloaked with bluebells and wood anemone in search of edible fungi and not finding any.  Almost makes me wish I had my old day job back. Not.

It has felt a little like being a beginner once again though.  Having moved from Brighton to Hastings last summer, I’m foraging in entirely new territory and that means I don’t know anywhere round here where I know I can find certain things if they are about at all.  So I have spent the past three weeks searching in vain for a local source of St George’s Mushrooms (not even pretending to hope I’d come across the Holy Grail of some morels).  I know via twitter and various forums I post on that people have been finding St George’s since February this year, although it would seem these finds are “outliers”, because there have not been a large number of sightings.  Perhaps after two good years for this species we are due a poor one.  But perhaps they have not been fooled by the early spring and they’ll start appearing en-masse at their “normal” time over the next couple of weeks.

Chicken of the Woods, photo taken 24/04/2014 near Hastings

Chicken of the Woods, photo taken 24/04/2014 near Hastings

Anyway – my luck has changed in the last two days.  I may not have found what I was looking for, but I have started finding plenty of other stuff instead.  These have included the cup fungus Peziza vesiculosa (Blistered Cup) and some Coprinopsis Inkcaps, both of unknown/disputed edibility, and two well-known edible species – Dryad’s Saddle and Chicken of the Woods.  I’ve never found the latter in April before.  It usually starts to appear about the end of May or the start of June.  The one I found today was still very soft, and looked like it had been growing for no more than about a week.

Chicken of the Woods is one of the safest of the wild fungi for people to pick due to it not being confusable with anything poisonous.  It does resemble a larger relative called Giant Polypore, but that species is only inedible because it is so tough and bitter.  They are reasonably easy to distinguish by smell – Chicken of the Woods smells and tastes like chicken, and Giant Polypore doesn’t.

As for what to do with it, I’m yet to find anything that beats frying it in butter then adding double cream, chives, paprika, salt and pepper.

Happy hunting, stay safe and if anybody reasonably local can point me in the direction of some morels then I’d be happy to offer two free autumn foraging sessions in return!

Geoff

 

Autumn arrives in Britain – It’s Mushroomtime…

07/09/2013

As anyone in rural areas of the north will not need to be told, yesterday autumn arrived in Britain, with a splash. The temperature dropped by about ten degrees in most places, and nearly everywhere had a very welcome downpour. We’ve just had the best summer since 2006, but it does now look as if it’s over. Hopefully (from my point of view anyway) there will be no repeats of the misplaced October heatwave we were subjected to in 2011.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

It’s also perfect timing in terms of fungi. The first big flush of autumn species had just started poking their heads above ground in the last few days, and the change in the weather means they won’t get dried out and with a bit of luck they will start fruiting in abundance. Today was my first (advertised as) peak session with a group of foraging students, and it produced my first decent basketful of English wild mushrooms of 2013 (we are about 3 or 4 weeks behind northern Scotland down here on the south coast).

We found in excess of forty species altogether, and if I include a couple I found before the session officially started, the list of edible species found today is as follows:

Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), ruby bolete (Xerocomus rubellus), larch bolete (Suillus grevellei), bay bolete (Boletus badius), the blusher (Amanita rubescens), tawny grisette (Amanita fulva), brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), blackening russula (Russula nigricans), rooting shank (Oudemansiella radicata), orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum), velvet russula (Russula violiepes), the miller (Clitopilus prunulus), blushing wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus), honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

Now is the time to book if you want to go mushrooming with an expert this autumn! 🙂

Geoff

 

Chyewks! (chickens of the wood, on yew)

17/06/2013

“Where poisoning does occur, in animals or humans, there may be no symptoms and death may follow within a few hours of ingestion. If symptoms do occur, they include trembling, staggering, coldness, weak pulse and collapse” (from www.thepoisongarden.co.uk, in reference to yew.)

First, the easy bit. Chicken of the woods (sulphur polypore/shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus) is a bracket fungus, fairly common in the UK and just coming into season now. Unlike most wild fungi, the danger associated with this species has nothing to do with identification; it’s easy to identify, because of its bright colours and distinct smell, and the only things you could conceivably mix it up with aren’t poisonous. It’s also, when still young, fresh and tender, absolutely delicious – it’s right up there with chanterelles and penny buns in the premier league of edible wild fungi.

Chicken of the woods, growing on yew.

Chicken of the woods, growing on yew.

So what’s the problem? It often grows on yew is the problem. It grows on plenty of other trees too, with a preference for oak, chestnut, cherry and willow, but I probably see it on yew more often than any of these others – and yew is associated with more than its fair share of mystery and mythology of its own, and rightly feared for its toxicity, which some people claim is transferred to the fungus when it grows on this tree. Chicken of the woods is also claimed by some sources to cause problems in a significant minority (5-15%) of the population even if it isn’t growing on yew, although some people to believe the two situations are linked, and that the minority in question have unwittingly eaten chickens from yew.

Last week, people all over the UK started posting pictures of chicken of the woods; 2013 is a good year for this fungus. One individual posted a picture of a very large specimen growing on yew, and in addition to having eaten some without coming to harm she also stated that she knew somebody who had been collecting and eating the fungus from the same tree for the last twenty years, with no ill-effects! So yesterday morning I decided to go for a long walk in a chunk of ancient yew woodland in Sussex to see what I could find, and I found chicken of the woods in abundance. Time, I thought, to kill two birds with one stone. It’s a long time since I found a large amount of this species in an edible state and not growing on yew, and I’ve not had much of a chance to experiment with different recipes. I’ve also never consumed a large quantity growing on yew.

Nearly finished cleaning it.  Just a few scraps of bark to be removed.

Nearly finished cleaning it. Just a few scraps of bark to be removed.

I say “walk”, but “scramble” would be more appropriate, as the woodland in question sits on the steep, scarp slope of the downs, and the ground is covered in loose chalk and flint. I lost my footing at one point, slipped over and cut the heel of my hand. The wound was a bit bloody and messy, I had no means of cleaning it, and by then I was keen just to get back to my car without having any more accidents, with my booty and camera intact. It was only as I was driving home that I realised the wound was hurting more than expected. I stopped, and on close inspection I found a small yew needle buried in my hand. As soon as I plucked it out, the pain stopped. A brief internet search will produce many anecdotal reports of a similar nature: yew foliage is potently unpleasant stuff.

Therefore, if you’re contemplating eating chicken of the woods from yew then you’d better make damned sure you remove every last scrap of foliage and bark from the surface first. Like all bracket fungi, this species will incorporate debris as it grows, and if the debris in question is yew foliage or bark then you’re eating yew foliage and bark, and there’s no question about the danger inherent in that; the toxins in yew do not break down when the plant material dies/dries!

Chicken of the woods, with chives and double cream.

Chicken of the woods, with chives and double cream.

So I cleaned it, very carefully. I then spent the next hour or so experimenting with recipes. I tried it with various different herbs and things (rosemary, thyme, chives, onion), fried with butter or olive oil, served with white toast or brown toast, on its own or covered in cream, etc… By the time I’d finished I’d eaten at least three times as much as would be consumed in an ordinary meal. I can report my findings: my favourite combination was to cook it in butter for 3 or 4 minutes, then add a generous helping of chives and finish it off with some double cream, then serve with brown toast. Truly scrumptious! I then lay down for a nap and to let my dinner get down…and wait to see if I developed any nasty symptoms or dropped dead with no warning.

I’m still here. I experienced no unpleasant effects whatsoever, and decided to cook up another load for my other half when she came home later that evening. I also had to have some more myself, of course. Would have been rude not to…

I am not going to recommend that other people go out and consume chicken of the woods growing on yew. My experiment is not absolutely conclusive. It is possible (likely, even) that some individuals are more sensitive to the toxins than others (if you have a history of heart problems then you should definitely steer clear). It is also possible that some specimens end up containing more tree-originating toxins than others. However, I suspect that yew material incorporated into the fungus is much more likely to lead to problems than the fungus itself.

I, for one, will be eating chicken of the woods from yew again. I will also offer it to my friends, although I’ll ask them to read this first.

Keep safe,

Geoff