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Illinois hunting and fishing

Jim Hefley shows off a hen of the woods mushroom. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Be on the lookout for trophy mushrooms this fall

October 02, 2010 at 10:32 AM

The State Journal-Register

Archery deer hunters weren’t the only ones to hit the woods in search of a trophy late this week.

“Want to go look for some big mushrooms?”

It wasn’t so much a request as a directive.

Carl Savage and Jim Hefley already were climbing aboard the John Deere Gator, and they knew right where they were going.

The two men are volunteers at the Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary north of Hillsboro, about 50 miles south of Springfield. The sanctuary is one of about a dozen around the state owned by the Illinois Audubon Society.

Volunteers have been restoring the former farm to its natural state, planting prairies, managing timber and turning an old barn into an educational center.

On the way to Savage and Hefley’s mushroom spot, the Gator took us through prairies filled with goldenrod and New England asters, along woodland trails and down a steep hill and through a creek. Thorny blackberries gave up their fruits a couple of months ago, but still hold tight to clothing when the Gator passes too closely.

Savage stopped and shifted into low gear and four-wheel drive before making a run at the creek.

“Some places charge big bucks for a ride like this,” Hefley says with a laugh.

Call it Six Flags for grownups.

The reward for the hunt

The trail through the floodplain was mostly overgrown, except for signs of some local kids riding in the area.

Hundreds of hardwood trees sheathed in plastic tree protectors to discourage deer dot the floodplain.

Savage narrates the trip, pointing out all of the projects volunteers have completed to make the restoration a success.

So maybe it’s karma when Hefley jumps off the Gator, strides off into the brush and disappears behind a stately bur oak tree with massive upper limbs that hint at its considerable age.

He emerges with a smile and a hen of the woods mushroom bigger than a bowling ball — but much more flavorful.

“We hunt morels in the spring, and in the fall we find these and give thanks,” he says.

Illinois hunting and fishing

The mushroom is a work of art — and not only when seen from a culinary viewpoint. Each leafy segment is layered against the next, with wavy leading edges.

Only the core is discarded.

“I like them fried,” Savage says. “I tried them broiled right next to a steak — and that was good — but I still prefer them fried.”

He keeps things simple, using the tried-and-true combination of milk, flour and eggs — the same formula that keeps morel hunters coming back year after year.

Soup’s on

Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) is known beyond the United States. In Japan, it’s known as maitake.

According to the Forager Press (, hen of the woods lends itself to any number of culinary applications due to its firm texture.

The hen of the woods is easy to store because it freezes easily. It’s a good thing — because of its large size, a whole one won’t be used in a single recipe. The soup recipe below required less than one-sixth of the mushroom pictured.

For the more ambitious chef, hen of the woods also works well in cream of mushroom and rice soup.

This recipe is adapted from two recipes, blending the interesting parts of both. One is found at and the other at I added some additional vegetables and substituted shallots and green onions for regular yellow onions.

As always, before eating any wild mushroom, be certain of its identification. If you aren’t sure, don’t eat it.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Wild Hen of the Woods Mushroom and Rice Soup

3 cups of hen of the woods mushroom, cut into half-inch pieces.

3 tablespoons butter or margarine (use more if needed)

Three shallots and 1 bunch of green onions (original recipe calls for one large onion, chopped)

3 cloves (one heaping tablespoon) of garlic (optional)

1/3 cup carrots, shredded or cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups of chopped celery

1/2 cup uncooked wild or brown rice
Four cups of vegetable or beef soup stock (more if you think the soup is too thick)

1/4 cup flour

1 cup of cream

1/4 cup of sherry

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped parsley or chopped green onion or chives to garnish

Soak the mushroom whole in a large mixing bowl filled with water and 2 tablespoons of salt, to kill any bugs that might have taken refuge between the folds. (I did not notice any bugs after soaking it for more than one hour. Taking the mushroom apart also did not reveal any bugs.)

In a large saucepan or deep skillet, saute the shallots, onions, garlic and carrots until onions are transparent, about 3 minutes.

Add more butter if necessary, and then add the mushrooms and cook a few minutes more.

Add freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt.

Add the soup stock and rice. Cook until liquid starts to boil and then reduce heat. Mix cream and flour together in a small mixing bowl and add to soup mix slowly.

Cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes or until rice is tender.

Stir in sherry and cook for 2 more minutes.

Garnish with parsley, chopped green onion or fresh chives.

To find the original recipes: — search for wild rice cream of mushroom soup — search for cream of wild mushroom soup

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

As i was telling Jonn Graham, if my dad wasnt sure of the mushroom variety he would cook it up and feed some to the cat, if cat didnt get sick he would eat the mushroom! Never tried the Hen of the Woods. Dad always said he liked fall mushrooms better. He liked the Hens, Oyster Shells and Puffballs i believe.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/04 at 02:36 PM

isn’t it a little late for hen of the woods? i had them growing on a few oak stumps back in august.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/06 at 07:28 AM

Apparently not. These were picked on a Tuesday, and the story came out that weekend.

I’ll admit, I am not an expert on fall mushrooms but the soup was great and easy to make. I think this may be a subject for further study!

Posted by Chris Young on 10/06 at 09:23 PM

Nope actually about right on time here in southern IL -
We usally start seeing them around the end of September - first of October and I usally am able to keep finding and cutting them right up until frost as long we get enough moisture.

It’s been a VERY good year for them in SW IL - almost makes up for the lousy spring morel season smile

Posted by G on 10/07 at 06:09 PM

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