Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tree Poultry - Chicken of the Woods
By Nik

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as Sulphur Shelf, is an easily recognized polypore (it's actually one of the "foolproof four," along with the Morel, Giant Puffball, and Shaggy Mane) that has many special qualities that are often overlooked. In this blog, we will explore how and what to look for, how it can be grown, a bit of its biology and the aforementioned special qualities, and how to prepare it for a delicious treat. Join us, after the jump.

The author staring longingly at his quarry.

As alluded to in the opener and in the above picture, Chicken of the Woods is rather easy to spot. Its bright yellow and orange hues (which can add nice contrast against darker Shiitake and pastel Oysters in a Farmers' Market mix, by the way) jump out at you from the dark backdrop of the tree it's inhabiting. These large clusters and obvious color patterns are telltale signs that you have stumbled into the metaphorical coop (thankfully, these "chickens" don't run around erratically after they're removed from the tree). Another trait that denotes this fungus is its perennial nature. Year after year, and often several times in a season, the Chicken returns to the same spot (here on the farm, that's usually in late June and again in August).

Chicken of the Woods emerging from old branch stub wound

At the base of the tree, indicating root rot

Now let us slip on our lap coats and discuss our attempts at growing the Chicken commercially and the biology behind it. Here at F&FP, we have only attempted to grow the Chicken indoors on sterilized sawdust, as a curiosity. These attempts have all failed, but like with many of our other curiosity-driven experiments, we will continue until we find another way around the wall.

Other spawn producers do sell Chicken of the Woods, most often in plug form similar to our Shiitake plugs. There are two reasons we have steered clear of working on log cultivation of this fungus. The primary reason is that the Chicken is both parasitic and saprobic, meaning that it establishes itself (usually first through wounds when the tree is living) and then continues to fruit long after the tree has snapped off or uprooted. This is one of the reasons we cross our fingers when high winds cruise through the farmstead. The trees snap both midway up from a past infection or uproot from Chicken-caused root rot. The second reason is that there is already plenty of it around, so we tend to not want to encourage more.

Chicken of the Woods is quite abundant in NE Wisconsin, corresponding with the abundance of 130+ year old Northern Pin Oak. If we were diligent in walking the property throughout the summer to harvest them on time, we would have gluttonous amounts for both ourselves and our farmers' market customers. The Chicken also thrives in eastern North American forest types (think mixed deciduous).

There are several other Laetiporus species, two of which are found east of the Missouri River (like L. cincinnatus). You can tell the differences based on which tree they're growing on (and where it is growing), as well as what color the pores underneath the top surface of the mushroom are. The White Chicken has white (duh) pores and is found growing soil from associated tree roots and at the base of the tree (unlike the Yellow Chicken which grows at the base and on areas of the trunk). L. huroniensis grows mostly in the Great Lakes area on Hemlock. L. gilbertsonii also grows on Eucalyptus and Live Oak in the Gulf area and in the coastal western US, L. conifericola is found on conifers.

Let's briefly investigate a Chicken of the Woods lookalike: Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus). Some who are not familiar with the Chicken will assume this is the real deal. Though it is edible, you will need to be armed with an industrial-strength mandible and routinely do jaw exercises for endurance and strength. Plus, it really isn't all that tasty. You can see the difference in the photos below:

Dryad's Saddle on an ancient Box Elder stump

For the final course, I will leave you with some culinary ideas that utilize the Chicken. It is best harvested when young while its edges are still thick-rimmed with plenty of yellow coloration. Once the edges thin, you will want to only use the outer 3-4 inches of the specimen where it is still tender, so it pays to stroll frequently through the woods equipped with a bag and a knife. If harvesting for a farmers' market, pick freshest specimens only and take the entire cluster, trimming right before market if necessary. Keep refrigerated until market day! On to the recipes...

Grilled/Parchment Roasted Chicken of the Woods
Parchment-roasted Chicken of the Woods in a white cream sauce over toast,
with garden-fresh basil, cucumbers, and heirloom tomatoes 
This method is totally open to experimentation, and in the end the mushrooms and the resulting broth can be used either as a main course or a nice supplement. You will need:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar (if you don't care for the acidity of vinegar, you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock with a dash of lime)
2 tablespoons honey  (mix with the vinegar/stock)
4 cups sliced Chicken of the Woods
3/4 cup olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste and a few branches of fresh thyme (optional)

Cut Chicken of the Woods into 1/4 - 1/2 inch slices and place on tin foil (if grilling) or parchment (roasting). Mix together oil, vinegar, and honey and pour over the slices. It will seem like a lot of liquid but use it all, as it will steam the mushrooms to tender perfection. Season and lay the thyme (if using it) on top. Seal foil or parchment into a leak-proof package by folding the edges in and crimping the corners. Bake (375-400) for 30 minutes, flipping the package at least once.

Drizzling the vinegar/honey/oil mix onto sliced Chicken of the Woods
Parchment packet, just before the flip
If you want chewy, glazed Chicken fingers, bake until parchment is browned and the contents are glazed with a thin, rich syrup. For lighter steamed mushrooms with plenty of broth to enrich with a cream sauce to pour over toast or soup, roast for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

To snack-a-tize your Chicken of the Woods, cut the vinegar from the recipe and have Ranch dressing available for a dipping sauce! Enjoy!

To continue your deep dive into the realm of the Chicken of the Woods, visit

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Road Less Traveled: F&FP in Africa (Part 1)
by Laura

This is one of two suitcases packed full of Oyster mushroom spawn, and some cloths too of course!
Recently Field & Forest Products was given the opportunity to participate in a program called Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F). This program is sponsored by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) and is part of USAID. The concept behind this program is to take farmers from more developed countries, like the United States, and send them to assist farmers in other less developed countries. In this case, the country of Malawi in Africa.

With that said, here I sit on my plane ride from Atlanta, Georgia to Johannesburg, South Africa. This 15 hour flight should give me enough time to reflect on the assignment I am about to embark upon. I will travel to the city of Mzuzu in Malawi where I will meet with a small group of farmers referred to as the Tisange Group. This group of farmers is growing…mushrooms, more specifically oyster mushrooms. They need the assistance of someone with growing experience to help them overcome issues they are having. These issues are affecting the profitability of the crop. Marketing the mushrooms is also a challenge for the farmers.

Saying goodbye to the U.S., Georgia below.
This experience will be valuable to the company; the knowledge gained will be shared with our customers and countless others. Hopefully this trip will inspire others to be more proactive in humanitarian efforts, the mere thought of the help I will give is rewarding already. My absence from Field & Forest Products means that many of my co-workers are doing my job, so a big thanks to all of them! Also, Joe and Mary Ellen, the owners of our company were gracious enough to let me participate instead of themselves. I truly could not ask for more. The family support I have for a trip like this is incredible as well. As a mother of four, leaving home is never easy, especially when leaving for over two weeks. 

I will do my best to document this trip and share this amazing experience with as many people as I can. With uncertainties of internet availability and frequent power outages I am not sure how much I will share, but I will do my best.