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Chick of the Woods

Discover the Magical Fungus Among Us

The treetops dapple the forest floor in a thousand shades of green. The smell of earth and the sound of last year’s leaves meet your senses with each bootstep. The chickadees chi-choo up above.

You suddenly snap to attention. You have spotted something of singular interest: a stump. It is a stump just like any of the other stumps you have ignored a thousand times before. But today you are different. Today you have been made a forager.

You break away from the group, gripping your wicker basket tight as you advance toward the rotting obelisk. And there, clinging to its rim, is what you have been searching for: salmon-colored, with thin ribbons of orange, and shaped like a stack of distorted pizzelles.

You have finally found it. The chicken of the woods.

“After 16 years of doing this, I can’t believe I’m still so obsessed with mushroom hunting,” said Jaime Rockney. “I think it’s because it combines my love of the outdoors, the thrill of the hunt and finding delicious food. It’s also the perfect distraction from all of the things I ‘should’ be doing. Plus, mushrooms are a very sustainable food source. Picking one doesn’t harm the fungus that grew it – they will come back year after year. 

“I believe mushroom hunting is satisfying on a primordial level. We all share the same deepest instincts: to walk around looking for food, and feel happiness whenever we find it.”

Jaime used to only forage mushrooms with Ruby, her yellow Lab. For all her other positive qualities, Ruby is wholly oblivious to the concept of mushrooms. Indeed, Ruby is oblivious to concepts in general, and occasionally expresses her profound cluelessness by trampling perfectly good morels.

Eventually, Jaime decided to add human companions to her hunting party. “One of the only ways I could see my friends during ‘the season’ was to take them mushroom hunting with me. They always said they had a wonderful time learning from me, and mentioned I could make this a side business. I had just as nice a time sharing my passion with them, but never dreamt I could make a penny from my obsession. But then I thought to myself, why not? Why not quit my job and do what I truly love?”

Thus Jaime became the Chick of the Woods, and began offering guided mushroom hunts to anyone who would like to join.

“A typical outing begins when we all meet in a park. We kick off with a discussion about safety, basic mushroom facts, and identifying edible species. If it’s May, we’re looking for morels, oysters and pheasant backs. If it’s later in the year – right up until mid-October – we’ll keep our eyes peeled for several other kinds of fungi. Giant puffball, shrimp of the woods, hen of the woods, and chicken of the woods are all perfect goals for beginners. They’re easy to identify, and they don’t have dangerous lookalikes.

“Next we all venture into the woods, fanning out so we can cover more ground and discover more species. When someone finds a mushroom, they call out so everyone else can join and learn how to identify it. Pretty soon, our baskets are filling up.”

When the hunt is over, the group reconvenes at the park to debrief and share thrilling tales of their exploits while Jaime fires up her trusty camp stove. Steak of the woods may be paired with blue cheese and naan bread; chicken of the woods, sautéed to perfection in Buffalo sauce. Simple recipes, which don’t deprive guests of authentic mushroom flavors.

“I’ve watched so many people’s eyes light up with pure, sincere delight when they find their first mushroom. One of my guests had never walked in a forest before, and was amazed by the world she’d been missing. I recently had a wonderful lady join one of my hunts. She confided that she had been living with debilitating anxiety and depression for decades – and that she had just enjoyed one of the best days of her life. She wished she discovered mushroom hunting sooner, because she had already decided to make it part of her medicine.”

Jaime is much more than a fun gal who loves fungi. She is a member of the Minnesota Mycological Society and the North American Mycological Association, and has been certified to identify and sell mushrooms by three separate standards. You are in the most capable hands when you visit and book your foraging adventure.

I’ve watched so many people’s eyes light up with pure, sincere delight when they find their first mushroom.

  • Ruby the Morel Support Dog
  • Jaime Rockney FB @chickofthewoods | IG @chick.of.the.woods