It was one of those rare times when I ventured out looking for something in particular and actually found it! Summer isn’t a great season for mushroom hunting but it does have some interesting and choice variety (albeit small) of edible fungi.
At the edge of a long woodland path in a Leicestershire wood, fortune was on my side when I came across Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus). One of those bracket fungi that are instantly recognisable and a joy to behold.
What I found was a very modestly sized tier of Sulphur Polypore (a common name I seem to prefer). The upper (older) bracket, although still featuring lemon yellow pores on the underside was unfortunately losing it’s full potential of colour on the top side.
The younger sprouting shelves though were more succulent and rich in colour, soft and malleable to the touch.
Chicken of the Woods quite often grows in high layered formations around a metre or more high, with fanned brackets reaching up to 30-40cm or so in width. But like many fungi and mushrooms, finding it in the prime of it’s life is paramount, not only for identification reasons but (as in this case) for edibility.
Instantly recognisable features of this bracket fungus are the bright yellow and orange colours. The very small pores on the underside are a striking lemon yellow and the upper side (depending on age) is more orange yellow (often ridged and wrinkled in shape).
With age, the upper surface will lose it’s colour along with the rest of the fungus. Finding it young is a must. The flesh of the younger folds are often quite thick and succulent, ideal for your cooking pot. But even though it looks beautiful and enchanting this fungus is actually a parasite often found on dying oak trees and also on other trees such as sweet chestnut, poplar, willow and yew. But in this case – a cherry tree.
Edibility-wise this fungus doesn’t tick all the boxes for all people. Only the young , fresh parts are worth eating. It does have a strong taste which sometimes can be quite acidic and bitter. But it’s all in how you cook it and I’m not a notable chef (unless it’s in a curry of course) so I can offer no advise. It’s very much trial and error with this fungus. It’s up to you to see how you can make it a ‘chicken substitute’, and being a very ‘tofu-like’ flesh, it has great potential in the kitchen. You can save some for later too because it stores well in the freezer for a while.
Finally (and as always), be careful trying any mushroom/fungus (you understand is edible) for the first time, as their may be an unwelcome reaction. Only try a small portion at a time and give yourself a generous few hours to see how you go. I would recommend that Chicken of the Woods found on Yew trees to be avoided altogether. It has been known to cause severe gastric upset, dizziness and general nausea. That’s not what you want!
But apart from that warning – Happy hunting…
QUICK ID TABLE: CHICKEN OF THE WOODS / SULPHUR POLYPORE Laetiporus sulphureus
10 – 40cm accross. Fan shaped / Semi-circular. Irregular margin. In large tierd groups. Yellow/Orange. Thick and fleshy. Turns straw/white coloured with age. Uneven upper surface – usually lumpy-like.
PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT
Very tiny pores (circular or ovate). Sulphur yellow in colour.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).
HABITAT / SEASON
On deciduous trees. Common on Oak, Cherry, Poplar and Willow. Thoes found on Yew known to be poisonous. Late spring to autumn.
Edible when young and fresh. Best cooking tips from Germany & North America.
The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:
• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual.