Several years ago, I harvested my first clump of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) in the wild. In New England, the mushroom -- which is also called Hen-of-the-Woods -- typically grows at the base of large Oak trees in the fall. The fruiting body pictured here is growing on the hidden remains of a tree in an otherwise grassy area. I enjoy cooking and eating the tender growth and making medicinal double-extraction tinctures from dried, chopped parts.
Last Monday, I was biking along a back road when I noticed this tree absolutely covered in yellow-orange mushrooms.
I'm no mushroom expert, but having looked through many mushroom field guides over the past couple years, this fungus immediately looked familiar. It turns out it's called Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) or Sulphur Shelf, and according to David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified, this species is one of the “Foolproof Four” edible mushrooms.
The top photo shows mostly mature specimens, but on the backside of the tree, I found this tender, young growth.
However “foolproof” it may be for some, it's essential to be 100% certain of proper identification before helping yourself to a serving. And even then, with this mushroom, it's best to start with a thoroughly cooked small sample, on the off-chance that the new food doesn't sit well with you. Fortunately, I had no adverse reactions to this species, and enjoyed its taste and texture very much.