YARMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — Ian Sullivan saw the giant mushroom and rejoiced. There would be soup that night.

Wielding a steak knife, he approached the 8-pound fungus, stuck on a beech tree like a frilly ascot.

A few cuts and it was over. The “chicken of the woods” was his. Yes, that’s the name of the edible mushroom.

“I was so happy,” said Sullivan, an opportunistic foodie and co-owner of the Underground Bakery in Dennis. “I had a good several hours of out-and-out giddiness.”

Cue a mushroom montage: Sullivan makes a giant pot of soup. Sullivan sautés fungus. Sullivan gives mushroom chunks to friends. Tummies are patted.

And, of course, “It tastes like chicken,” Sullivan said.

While gathering wild mushrooms comes with some risk and should be undertaken only by those armed with significant know-how, chicken of the woods can be a good starter mushroom, says Wesley Price, who operates the Cape Cod Mushroom Blog.

“They are difficult to mistake, which is why people feel comfortable around it,” said Price. “It’s fun for them to find something that is big and bright orange growing in the woods.”

Caution is job one for fungus foragers to avoid potentially toxic encounters. “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters,” Price said.

But the potential pitfalls of poison don’t deter skilled foragers from seeking out edible mushrooms on Cape Cod. “Oh yes, they are out there,” said Les Perry, supervisor of Shawme-Crowell State Forest in Sandwich.

Perry said mushroom gathering is a popular hobby at the park and he has seen people exit with chicken of the woods in their baskets. “It’s exciting to see folks enjoying nature and harvesting it,” Perry added.

Although chicken of the woods is listed as an edible mushroom, according to the field guide Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, it has been known to cause allergic reactions and upset stomachs in some individuals, so it may make sense to try a small piece of the cooked mushroom at first and see how it sits with you.

According to Sullivan, finding chicken of the woods can be a matter of luck, but the odds of locating the tasty fungus can be increased by looking in locations where moss and dead and rotting hardwood are present.

“You have to think like a mushroom,” said Sullivan.

Mushroom blogger Price said he’s happy to help folks identify any mushroom they find in the woods. He suggests emailing several photos of the mushroom from the top, bottom and sides in its habitat to capecodmushroom(at)gmail.com. Visit his blog at mushroomocean.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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