For most in the Midwest, autumn means big bucks, the early days of deer season, and all things whitetail. Forest foragers know that late autumn also means the mushrooming season for the most part is coming to a close; however, there remains one last great treat for those perusing the autumn woods… One last great big, giant, treat because, those glorious autumn days are when you can find a fruiting of Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) as big as forty or fifty pounds.
Yes, I said forty or fifty pounds, in one mushroom. The largest I have harvested weighed 49.3 pounds. Yes, you read that correctly, a single mushroom weighing in at almost 50 pounds! Now that’s more enough mushroom for eating fresh and for putting up for the rest of the year.
Grifola frondosa can fruit anytime from mid September to late October and seems to be triggered by the first cold nights of the end of summer. As I am out scouting deer, acorn crops, waterfowl etc. In late September you can also bet I’m checking those oaks for Hen of the Woods. It is found mostly with dead or dying oak trees, though I have also found them under maples along creek and river banks.
While this year hasn’t been a banner year in my neighborhood, because it’s been so darn dry there have still been enough that I have coolers full on the porch, the dehydrator racks a full and running overtime, the fridge can’t hold even one more and we are eating them at every meal.
Hen of the Woods is my personal all-time favorite. It’s flavor is deep and earthy and holds up well to almost any cooking style or combination. Additionally, even one or two good sized ones can yield a whole lot of mushroom goodness both fresh and preserved for the coming year.
I am always on the lookout for new ways to prepare and preserve hen of the woods. Just last week a Facebook friend, Bill Kulschbach of Dunlap, posted that he had hen of the woods jerky in the dehydrator. Say what? Mushroom Jerky?
I went on an internet search and low and behold found several different recipes, and decided to give it a whirl. Admittedly, all I used from the recipes was the basic process. I fiddled and finagled a marinade recipe of my own.
It was not without a little trepidation that I put a test batch on the dehydrator. I thought to myself, this is one of those things that will either be really good or so bad that even the coons won’t touch it.
Luckily, it turned out to be really good! So good in fact, I nearly had to wrestle the bag of samples away from several taste testers in the neighborhood, and the bulk of the test batch ended up in the field with my dearly beloved while he was combining and planting wheat.
Now that I’ve run a couple more batches, and actually formulated a recipe using measured ingredients instead of my usual slap, dash, and splash method of cooking, it’s time to share this treat with the Heartland community.
One of the great parts about this is that the giant “core” that most large hens have can also be used in the recipe so every part of mushroomy goodness is used with little to no waste.
Hen of the Woods Jerky –
One medium sized hen of the woods
2 cups apple cider
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons sweet Asian chili sauce
1 quarter cup maple syrup (I have been using an apple butter flavor infused maple syrup that is marvelous and available at Aldi’s, but regular works just fine)
3 Tablespoons McCormick Grill Mates Applewood Rub
3 Tablespoons McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple
Salt and Pepper to taste
Clean and prepare hen of the woods by removing the “petals” and cut into as much of a uniform size as possible. After removing the outer layers and petals, thinly slice the core, again trying to maintain uniformity for drying times. Save the smaller fronds/petals/trimmings to make Hen of the Woods Spread (recipe follows this one).
Place the mushroom pieces in boiling water for 10 minutes.
While mushrooms are boiling prepare marinade by mixing all other ingredients together. Whisk or blends marinade to fully incorporate all ingredients.
After mushrooms have boiled for ten minutes, drain and place hot mushrooms and marinade in a nonreactive container or plastic bag and let marinate for 8-12 hours.
After marinating for at least 8 hours, place mushroom pieces on a dehydrator and dry at 145 for 8-12 hours. (Drying times will vary based on thickness of mushrooms and personal preference for chewiness, crispiness etc.) Store in an airtight jar or vacuum seal. I honestly can’t tell you how long this can be stored. It doesn’t seem to last long enough around here for me to accurately gauge. I would think though, that you might want to use it up fairly soon, or place in the fridge or freezer.
Hen of the Woods Mushroom Spread
This is a takeoff of the black trumpet spread I shared earlier this year, and it’s even better! The full earthy, mushroomy flavor come through much better with Hen of the Woods. A dab of this and slice of deer or goose sausage on cracker and you have a treat is so tasty! Heck you can even use a piece of the mushroom jerky for dipping a bit of spread for the full mushroom experience!
1 8oz package cream cheese cut in to roughly 12 squares
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup finely minced red onion
1 cup finely chopped hen of the woods mushroom
Chardonnay for deglazing.
Using a heavy skillet, (I prefer cast iron) melt butter and stir in onions first to sauté until clear and beginning to brown and crisp up a bit, add mushrooms and sauté until they have cooked through and sweated down. Add a splash of chardonnay to deglaze and get all the good little bits loosened. Cook off any remaining liquid. Add in the cream cheese, stirring until all is melted, and all bits of onion and mushroom are fully incorporated. Transfer to a container (I use wide mouth half pint jars) and place in fridge. Remove from fridge a bit before serving so that it can soften for spreading.
For more about Hen of the woods and other recipes, please visit these previous posts!