Sunday, October 16, 2016

MUSHROOMS: A maitake moment

Some weeks, especially if I've been editing until my eyes are bleary and haven't gotten out, I get a little concerned that I won't come up with enough items to fill this column (much less interesting ones).
Then something like this happens.
I was driving on a wooded back road on Friday when I saw a white pickup stopped on the side of the road and a man walking out of the woods carrying what looked like a brain.
You do not know me very well if you have to ask whether I stopped and asked him what was going on.
It turns out he is a mushroom forager named Jason, and what he was carrying was a maitake mushroom he had just harvested from the base of an oak tree. The friendly forager -- he was wearing a "Morel Whisperer" sweatshirt -- was happy to discuss his find and explained that the Latin name of the maitake, Grifola frondosa, comes from the fact that the large fungus does actually appear to be divided into fronds.
Jason displayed an impressive knowledge of mycology. He knows how long it will take for certain mushrooms to appear after a rainstorm, and he knows the frequency with which various species grow in our area. When I asked him how he spotted the maitake (aka hen of the woods), he said that he estimates they grow on one of every three oaks, so when he saw two maitake-less oaks, odds were good he'd find one on the third.
Jason kindly gave me a large portion of the maitake, saying he had 30 or 40 pounds back at the office, and the first thing I did was to smell it. The fragrance was mild, earthy and pleasant and could have been the distilled essence of a moist woods.

A wild maitake mushroom found by Forager Jason.