At the end of September I had a phone message from someone named Madeline. She had seen my name in a local paper, the Mid-York Weekly, in some connection with mushrooms.  I hadn't seen it yet myself: a mention in the Smyrna news about my having spoken to the Morrisville Garden Club about growing mushrooms. The connections among locations and subject matter had nothing to do with anything, except my name occurred in the same sentence as the word mushroom, and my name is in the phone book, so I got the call.

 

At the end of September I had a phone message from someone named Madeline. She had seen my name in a local paper, the Mid-York Weekly, in some connection with mushrooms.  I hadn't seen it yet myself: a mention in the Smyrna news about my having spoken to the Morrisville Garden Club about growing mushrooms. The connections among locations and subject matter had nothing to do with anything, except my name occurred in the same sentence as the word mushroom, and my name is in the phone book, so I got the call.

 
Madeline had found a mushroom - she pronounced it mush-a-room, which I don't mention to make fun of her, but because she said it with such rhythmic enthusiasm that I started to say it that way myself - so big she had to use a wheelbarrow to move it. She harvested it because she thought it was beautiful and wanted to dry it so she could keep it. She wanted my advice on whether it would dry well. I called her back, and as it was the end of the work day, and I didn't have anything cooking in the lab, I arranged to go to her place and see it.

Madeline hauls hens in her wheelbarrow


As I suspected, she had found some Hen-of-the-Woods (Maitake) on her property. She had collected two of the biggest clusters I had ever seen. I explained that she had found a huge amount of one of the best edible mushrooms you can find around here, but she wasn't interested in eating it. I tried to persuade her to give it a try, but she said that was a risk she would not take. "I still have things I want to do in life" she said.

 

I persisted, so she challenged me to eat a piece of it, right then and there. I did. It wasn't bad (though as a general rule I don't recommend eating any mushroom raw). It did not change her mind. "I'll look for your name in next week's paper," she said. So much for my powers of persuasion.

 

Though she did not want to eat the Hen, she clearly found it beautiful. She wanted to preserve it. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to work.

 

As a Hen matures, its fronds spread and separate, creating more spaces for spores to escape, very much like what a bird does when taking a dust bath, or trying to keep warm. These two hens could have used a few more days of warm weather to expand, as they still were still pretty tightly wrapped. Unfortunately, we'd had a lot of rain and cold weather, so the Hen's massive core had already begun to rot. It clearly would not dry well as an intact mass.


Close-up of tigh hen fronds


Madeline had collected a smaller, more mature specimen that had a better chance of drying nicely.

Fluffier hen specimen

She showed me a piece of bark with dried shelf polypores on it that she had collected. It had preserved nicely, so we thought the fluffier hen might dry similarly, She'll see.

Small dried polypores as decorative art

She insisted on giving me the larger Hen, as thanks for responding to her call. Then she told me she liked to do something nice for someone every day, and hadn't had a chance to that day, so she insisted on sending me away with even more gifts of food and drink, saying "this is who I am" in response to my protests, and, finally, "get out of here."

Bringing home the hen