by Marie Viljoen at 66 Square Feet
The enormous mushroom that does not look like a mushroom. Maitake. Hen of the woods. Grifola frondosa.
October is its usual month in this neck of the temperate, urban woods, but this year they started early, in September. Then they disappeared. I am hoping that with some rain (we are in moderate drought, at the moment - 7" below average rainfall for the month) we may see more more appearing before the really cold weather stops them.
This is bang-for-the-buck mushrooming. Maitake cost a fortune in gourmet food stores, so bringing one heavy hen home feels very satisfying. And if you have a family to feed, all the better.
If you have been lucky enough to collect your own, use the outer caps, or frills of the mushroom. Wild specimens are always heftier and thicker than cultivated maitake, which sometimes look quite delicate (in which case, use the whole thing, roughly chopped). For wild mushrooms, save the woodier heart for slicing thinly and drying.
This is a serious soup. It is thick: your halved bread roll should stand up straight once dipped into the bowl. It is not very pretty. It resembles sludge. But it is delicious. The sherry vinegar really helps. If you don't have any, lemon juice is fine, though more austere. (Cider vinegar might be very good... I could write a lot about vinegar, Buy the good stuff.)