Where The Wild Things Grow
Wild edibles is a subject that tends to fill some people with uncertainty, apprehension, and fear. The fact is that many of the foods we cultivate to this very day were themselves once "wild" edibles, that were over time domesticated and cultivated. Personally I, and many others like me, feel a deal of satisfaction from harvesting foods from the wilds. Not only on camping trips either, but also on our hikes and nature walks for exercise, and then enjoying them later in the comfort of our homes.
In late spring and early summer, there aren't as many wild edibles available as there will be later on in the autumn, but there are some around here and there. One of my favorites in a mushroom, a type of shelf fungus known as Laetiporus and commonly called chicken of the woods. It is typically bright orange and yellow, but as it gets older it will become less flexible and less colorful as well, and it can look rather subdued comparatively. The younger and more tender it is, the better for eating it will be.
In mid to late spring onions and garlic are around as well. The onions have been up since late winter, are already flowering and winding down for the year, while the garlic is just going into the flowering stage. They are very similar in structure, but easy to distinguish with a little knowledge about them. The onion greens are grass-like all the way to the bulb, while the garlic stems are quite woody at the base. The onion greens are also typically a bit lighter in color.
This fungi, when young and fresh, is very pliable and flexible. It is very tender, and so like most fungi these mushrooms will slice very easily. While being cut up these mushrooms do actually smell like raw chicken, which is how they got their name.
Personally, I like to caramelize the onions and garlic in a little olive oil to tenderize it before adding the mushrooms. Then I will brown them all together on a lower heat setting for a few minutes to let the flavors mingle. The garlic and onions are a nice complement to the mushrooms.
One of my favorite ways to prepare these mushrooms is to make a sauce by boiling herbs and spices in a small amount of chicken stock, then adding a bit of corn starch to thicken it into a sauce. The I add that to the mushroom, garlic, and onion mix and let everything simmer together for a few minutes.
This mushroom and gravy sauce served over your favorite pasta, accompanied with bread or rolls and some hard cheese, and complimented with a nice white wine can make for a pleasant, very satisfying (on multiple levels), yet simple and inexpensive meal.
The study of wild edibles does warrant some precautions, especially when it comes to fungi. Some edible fungi have some not so edible look-alikes until you know the differences. So research is very important. However as far as I know, chicken of the woods does not have any dangerous look-a-likes here in the woods of the S.E. United States anyway, to my knowledge the other similar mushrooms like oysters and hen of the woods are just as edible, and taste just as good. Others they may appear to grow similarly that aren't edible will be more solid, more woody, and less pliable. The more you know about the world around you, the less fear and apprehension you will have of it, and the more fun and enjoyment you can have with it.