Once again we find ourselves in the midst of a change in the seasons in the wonderful state of Wisconsin. Autumn is marked by shorter days, chillier nights and, of course, the changing of the leaves! If you’re anything of a farmer, gardener, or forager, you know that autumn is also HARVEST SEASON! In my mind, it’s “go time”. Now is the time of year to stock up on food for the long winter ahead. Sure, the grocery store will still be there but nothing is as fulfilling as preparing a hot meal on a cold winter night with the stored “fruits of your labor”. At my home, a good meal starts with a trip down to the freezer for a package of venison or one of our home-raised chickens. Next is a visit to the pantry. From there, the choices are abundant. Homemade broths, sauces, pickled goods, dried herbs, and perhaps the most intriguing: several varieties of dried mushrooms harvested from our own small woods, nearby public lands, or the forest just outside Front Porch Pets. I cannot express how lucky we are to have a gourmet buffet of wild mushrooms growing literally right in our backyard.
We’ve waited all year to replenish our depleted stock of yummy fungi. One of the best parts of mushroom hunting is that coming out of the woods empty-handed is a rarity. A recent trip into the Front Porch Pets woods had me supplied with maitake/hen of the woods, aborted entoloma/shrimp of the woods, an edible variety of boletes, elm oysters, and turkey tails. At other times of the year, we find abundant morels, aspen oysters, and lobster mushrooms. I could go on for pages about how special each type of mushroom is so, for now, I’ll just touch on the impressive maitake, Grifola frondosa.
Many people refer to maitake as hen of the woods. It’s most commonly found at the base of mature oak trees and can be quite sizable! The large cluster of fronds blends in with the fallen leaves and can be easy to overlook. Luckily, one good find is enough for several meals. This past weekend we chopped up a few fronds into small pieces and added it to a breakfast egg scramble. For dinner, we stuffed venison steak with maitake, onion, and pepper, rolled it with bacon and cooked it over the campfire. Not only is maitake tasty and versatile, it has many health benefits for me and my dog. Perhaps most notable is its support for the immune system, ability to help regulate blood sugar, and its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, Front Porch Pets is currently working on incorporating it into one of our upcoming and much anticipated bone broths. Though this awesome mushroom is starting to appear in grocery stores and can easily be found online both dried and in supplement form, I will still be lacing up my hiking boots and taking to the woods. The hunt is just as fun as the harvest, in my opinion, and my Springer Spaniel search companion, Arlo, strongly agrees. For those who don’t have access to a healthy, mushroom-filled forest or don’t have the time to mushroom hunt, keep an eye out for our carefully crafted bone broths coming to your front porch in the near future!