Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shelf Esteem

The Chicken of the Woods, or Sulfur Shelf, or Laetiporus sulphureus, just two days before harvest.   

At first the weather was rainy, cool. Then it dried out, but cloudy. Then it got hot and humid (for Minnesotans). And then, although we thought we could make due without, came the violent thunderstorms on the evening of our last day . Under green-grey skies, oaks thrashing about, Betsy stood with short knife, at the ready. This was her find, and she felt responsible for its dry harvest, but the fear of windfall limbs in a rotting wood put a damper on feet raring to go. We watched radar and sky, waiting for the cleft between storms, and dashed into the woods. While Betsy cut, I scanned the treetops, listening for the creak and the crack. All the while she had the presence of mind to leave some of the L. sulphureus intact so that it could spore out. 

 The harvest under the eerie green of fluorescent lighting.

 A cut across the mushroom, a section, reveals an even, creamy yellow grain and brilliant orange skin.

Its yellow "polypore" underside helps distinguish this find from last year's L. cincinnatus, which has a white underside. Both are found on hardwoods (particularly oak) east of the Great Plains, but L. sulphureus is more likely to be found in an overlapping shelf formation on a downed log, as was this one. Incidentally, this Sulfur Shelf was found about 75 feet from last year's.

Hard to miss why it's called a Sulfur Shelf, although there's no telling its purpose. 

Laetiporus sulphureus is a wood decomposer, not a ground-fruiting mycorrhizal fungi enjoying a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. A Sulfur Shelf is known as a brown rot fungus, meaning it breaks down the cellulose of the tree, leaving the brown lignin behind. It is generally not good if you see one on a live tree, but necessary for the decomposition of a dead one.

I read that one should cook a Sulfur Shelf before it is eaten, but I ate quite a number of tender slices raw with no apparent ill effects. This one was not like last week's tender Shelf, having a thick stem appearing to make it more "woody." Despite this, we ate the whole cut, minus the actual wood. The shelves were tender, while the thick stems were quite edible too, but would have served better in a soup or stew, or even a cream sauce, to soften them up. We ate them sauteed on the day of cutting, with some left over. What remained, traveled with us to Iowa in a brown paper bag. I sliced garlic, sprinkled salt, and drizzled xv olive oil on the sliced mushroom. Then wrapped in aluminum foil, it was grilled on the fire at our campsite. Even better than the first night.


  1. Awesome mushrooms !!!
    Great shots of something you just don't see that often on a garden blog.

  2. We had these in the woods on our property when I was growing up. I never knew they were edible! Thanks for an informative post.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...