Chicken of the Woods: The Best Mushroom in the Classroom

It’s that time of year when many of us find ourselves thinking forward. It’s finally time to turn over that new leaf that we have been staring at for the last several years. I am resolved once again to find more opportunities for my students outside the four walls of my classroom. If you share my resolve, a mushroom hunt may very well be just what your science class needs this year.

Mushroom hunting can be very embarrassing for a teacher. After several attempts, your students quickly discover that you never actually find mushrooms; you just hunt for them. I can also assure you that classroom management in the great out of doors is a lot easier if you are actually finding mushrooms! My goal is to give you a sure fire way to have a successful mushroom hunt with your students.

1. Hunt for Chicken of the Woods:

Don’t hunt for some obscure mushroom that has a 5-hour growing window. Also, avoid hunting for any mushroom that is harder to spot than a good Wilson basketball. I suggest “Chicken of the Woods.” It is bright orange and grows in large clusters. You can find it August through September (sometimes even later) in many parts of North America. I normally find it on dead cherry wood or on dead oak stumps. It grows in volume and is super easy to spot. We found this nice cluster last year.

2. Stack the deck:

I drive the dirt roads in my area until I see the bright glow of a nice cluster of Chicken of the Woods. We always do our mushroom hunting within walking distance of that location. If the students are not successful, we inexplicably end up in that area. It’s amazing how often we find mushrooms on the way back to the vehicle!

3. Harvest the mushrooms correctly:

If you harvest Chicken of the Woods correctly, it just might be there again next year. Do not break the mushroom off the dead wood. Simply cut the tender flanges off each mushroom, leaving the base of the mushroom attached to the wood. Moist mushrooms that have an almost-wet appearance will make the best eating.

4. Wash the mushrooms and fry them with your students:

We fry them under the hood in our science lab. I prefer a cast iron skillet for the frying, a nice portion of butter, and a spoon of diced up garlic. Fry each side of the mushroom until it has a toasted appearance.

After the mushrooms have been fried in in garlic and butter, I like to salt them just a bit. Even students who don’t like mushrooms will probably enjoy some fried Chicken of the Woods. The mushrooms should both have the texture and taste of a fried chicken tender.

Successful mushroom hunting to you and your class! You might even inspire your students to tear themselves away from the electronic world and take their own walk in the woods. It’s even possible that some Morels could eventually show up on your desk!

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