scientific name: Grifola frondosa
AKA Sheep's Head or Dancing mushroom
The Maitake mushroom has been cultivated for many years in Asia, especially Japan, where it originated. Maitake means "dancing mushroom," because they were so valued that whoever found them would dance for joy. It's a very versitile and delicious mushroom. Freshly picked and cooked Hen of the Woods are wonderful
Season and Habitat
Grifola frondosa fruits anytime from early September to late October and seems to be triggered by the first cold nights of the end of Summer. It is found mostly with dead or dying Oak trees, though some regularly find clusters under a dead Maple
Widely variable in color, from pure white to tan to brown to gray. It appears to get darker depending on direct sunlight. Large overlapping leaf-like fronds grow in bushy clusters that get larger with time. Each frond is from a half to four inches across and is usually darker to the outward edges. The entire fruiting body can be as big as several feet across. The underside of individual caps consists of a pure white pore surface. Grifola frondosa is a polypore, a mushroom which disperses its spores from pores as opposed to gills. The pores are close together and tiny, almost difficult to see. The caps are firm and juicy. The stem is thick firm, white and branched. The spore print is white.
Maitake mushrooms have a distinctive aroma with a rich, woodsy taste.
Many gilled mushrooms grow in large clumps-remember that hen-of-the-woods is a pore fungus. This mushroom has no poisonous look-alikes, but there are some similar species of pore fungi that are tough and inedible. If what you have tastes leathery or otherwise unpleasant, you probably didn't pick a hen-of-the-woods.
Maitakes usually last 7-10 days. Keep refrigerated in paper bags.
Some Serving Suggestions:
- Sauté lightly in butter or oil.
- Adds richer taste to any cooked recipe calling for mushrooms.
- Goes well as main dish ingredient, in side dishes and soups.
Storing The Hen of the Woods Mushroom
Hen of the Woods Mushrooms as big as forty or fifty pounds are not uncommon, I have tried numerous ways to store them for use all winter. Some people dry or can these mushrooms, but freezing is the best method of preserving them.
All you need to prepare for freezing is a knife, a towel, a bowl and lots of freezer bags. It is simply a matter of cleaning and bagging them, then popping the bags directly into the freezer. That's all there is to it, sweet simplicity. No pre-cooking or par-boiling is needed. Once frozen the mushrooms can last up to two years. Chop the mushrooms into different size pieces in different bags to use different ways. I also shred it like you would string cheese.
The cleaner the mushroom the better when bagging because you'll want to defrost right in the pan. If the mushrooms were growing under a rotten tree, the mushroom can actually grow around the wood particles and they'll be embedded in the mushroom flesh. Those mushrooms may not worth cleaning unless you have no choice.