On Saturday, I moved into my new home–a place in the city, much closer to civilization, with my childhood best friend and her partner. My girlfriend helped me unpack. We all played catch-up, sharing laughs, helping to ease my transition from the North Shore.
By Monday, I was stealing a pot roast-sized mushroom from a neighbor’s yard under the cover of night.
How did I get here? Let me start at the beginning.
Laetiporus sulphureus—aka “Chicken of the Woods”–is a large edible mushroom that, as the name implies, tastes just like chicken.
I didn’t know any of this, of course, until my long-time best friend Tiffy (ripe from years of environmental studies and forest department internships) told me about it. I was instantly fascinated, both as a lover of fungus and food.
I’m the Egon Spengler of…well, everything.
I was even more fascinated when Tiffy told me one was growing in a nearby tree.
This delicacy was waiting right down the road? Are you kidding me? People forage through deep woods to sample this thing! How lucky can I get?
We did a little recon–under the guise of walking the dogs–and sized up the situation.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“In that tree,” Tiffy answered. “See it?”
Oh, the giant yellow poof twice the size of my head wedged between two trunks of a tree sitting smack dab at the corner of someone’s yard next to a major roadway? Yeah, I think I see it!
Nevertheless, I signed on to help her harvest this beast. And after dinner (and a couple courage-inducing cocktails) I was ready for my quest.
“We better go on foot,” Tiffy suggested.
I pocketed a large, sharp Cutco knife, sheathing it haphazardly in a paper towel, the hilt of which jutted conspicuously from my pocket. Tiffy wadded up a paper grocery bag and stuffed it in her waistband at the small of her back.
“Where you would put a gun,” I remarked. “Perfect.”
So the two of us slunk out of her yard and around the block. Did we change clothes for this? No. Were we both wearing the brightest colored shirts known to man? Yes.
At the first corner, we came across a couple walking their dog. Tiffy cursed. We took a sharp left into the shadows, opposite the direction we needed to be going.
My fears ignited into thoughts. Were they suspicious of us? Had they seen the knife? Were they rival mushroom hunters set to beat us to this holy fungus grail?
These were all real possibilities. For sure.
Our clever U-turn bought Tiffy and I some time. We closed in on our prize. I held my breath as the couple and their canine accomplice passed our precious spore-filled gem.
They didn’t even glance at it. The fools! Didn’t they realize what they were passing?
Tiffy and I closed in. Immediately, I realized there were a few snags in this operation. Other than the obvious.
The neighborhood was dark. Pitch black. An ideal cover.
Except for the one giant beaming streetlamp that cast a hallowed orange glow down upon the mushroom. And on the metal “Crimewatch Neighborhood” sign affixed to a post.
There was a light on near the back of the house, while the front windows were dark. No doubt some unsuspecting homeowners tucking themselves in for the night, clueless to what was transpiring at the edge of their property.
There wasn’t time for small talk. With all the bravery my Bacardi had mustered, I plunged the Cutco knife deep into the spongy yellow-orange flesh of the Laetiporus sulphureus and began to slice and dice.
Or tried to anyway. Turns out, the Chicken of the Woods isn’t just named after its taste; the meaty mushroom has all the thickness of the actual bird, maybe more so.
The knife wouldn’t budge. It might as well have been Excalibur for the struggle it put up.
A pair of headlights lit up the street and blazed at us. I told Tiffy to hide. Abandoning the blade, I rounded the tree, retreating to the inky shadow of its trunk.
The headlights flashed on the obsidian handle, gleaming along its ergonomic curves. Tiffy and I kept pressed to the bark.
When the car passed, Tiffy and I swung around into position, like children dancing around a thick maypole. The knife was just where I left it–it looked like someone had stabbed a disembodied brain and then had second thoughts.
I went back to work. A couple quiet grunts and a few flicks of the wrist and the Chicken of the Woods was free of its coop, so to speak. Albeit, in three large pieces. Tiffy placed the pilfered poultry in her grocery bag, rolled the top, and we were homeward bound. A pair of foxes, full, leaving the barn.
I used the paper towel sheath to wipe away the mushroom’s gore–a street gang’s tactic. What had I become?
Back at the pad, we dumped our bounty out on the kitchen table; two tired kids after a long Halloween night. Mission accomplished.
No, I haven’t eaten any yet. We are still deciding the best way to prepare the ‘bird.’
But what a rush!
Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.