by Chris Kulinski
I have been a forager of woodland treasures since early childhood, growing up in the Bavarian region of southern Germany. When our parents, Jadwiga (Harriet and Fryderyk / Fred) would put my sister and me in the large metal carrying baskets on the bicycles and pedal off to the Black Forest (Schwartz Wald) to pick mushrooms. Then we would bring them to the apartment, clean them, slice them and prepare them for a meal or for pickling or drying.
I remember us stringing them up like popcorn and hanging them across the family room, from the ceiling over the stove to the double windows that opened up overlooking the street on the second floor of 46 A Vogehsen Strasse in Augsburg, Germany. All of which included the kitchen and pantry. In about a week of drying, the room smelled like musty, stinky socks. Oh, but how good the soup was in the dead of winter!
Recently, I had the privilege of being able to go mushroom picking in the stately Greg and Michelle Turenne woodlot. I had wanted to explore their little slice of paradise for a number of years but time constraints would not allow that, as I was leading History, Heritage and Culture tours to Poland.
Taking a break this year because of the Wuhan virus, I asked for permission again and went foraging for Hen of the Woods mushrooms (also known as Maitake and Polyporus Frondosus). Early on September 10, I fought through the tangle of brush and weeds along the road and across the creek in a light drizzle. I found out that my right boot had a crack. I hate walking in a wet sock but the hunt was on. I was enjoying and marveling at the size and variety of coniferous and deciduous species of trees. It is nice to know people who are good land stewards and do not cut every last tree and piece of brush to produce more cropland.
I managed to find several Hens and was walking through to an access trail when I spotted a yellow orange color in the distance. At first, I thought that it was a stack of firewood covered with an orange tarp. But when I got closer, I noted it was a Chicken of the Woods mushroom (sulfur shelf / Laetiporus sulphureus / Polyporus sulphureus) and that it was enormous just as the Red Oak that it was feeding off. I could not carry it out alone. I talked to Michelle and called Greg to make arrangements to extract this huge specimen. I was thoroughly soaked from the rain at this point and went home where I took a long hot bath.
The next day at high noon, I made my way to the 150-year-old Red Oak with a long knife. I got it off in one piece and proceeded to take it to the trail (instead of waiting for Greg with the UTV). I slipped and it broke into three sections as Greg and his sidekick approached. Then we took it out and loaded it into my vehicle. I promptly headed for the Sentinel & Rural News for a photo, doing my best to reconstruct the colossus.
After returning home, I weighed the segments which tipped the scale at 55 pounds. Although the Chicken of the Woods mushroom is good to eat, some people can have an allergic reaction. Therefore, caution is advised.
Try a little after thoroughly cooking it. If no reaction, you can pig out the next time!
[Editor’s Note: Chris has been bringing monstrous and delicious mushrooms to our offices for years. His sweet mom schooled me on cooking the fungal beauties and they are always delightful. Just before Chris scored the above-mentioned behemoth, he brought us Hens and Chicks mushrooms and we put them on everything. Chris must have been Tolkien’s inspiration for mushroom-loving Hobbits. ~ Travis]
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