Mother Nature, Mushroom Sponges, and Mike

We’re beginning to feel like Noah’s neighbors here. Seems like we’ve had nearly forty days and nights (mostly nights) of rain and gloom. After six months of dreary winter skies, the occasional peek-a-boo played by the sun is welcome– even if the temperatures soar to the nineties on those days. It’s gloomy this morning too. It’s not even good weather for mushrooms because the water makes them rot before they can be used.

Mike has been growing shitakes for several years now in the woods near the house. The fungi prefer dappled sunlight and the cooler temperature in the woods allow them to grow large and meaty. The picture here is not our best crop, but happened to be the one on my phone (all my pictures here are from my phone). Most grocery stores in our area prefer the ‘dijobe’ sized shitakes, those that are about three inches across and not completely opened and many grocers buy from people who raise them in manmade ‘mushroom caves’ in order to have them available year ’round. Can’t slight them for that, but the woods grown mushroom caps are much thicker and better. The stem is fibrous and not eaten, but can be dried and ground for a mushroom tea that some in Japan claim as a cancer preventative. And I’ll give you a little hint…so far as we’ve been able to tell, all woods-grown mushrooms are organic, no need to pay extra for a label.

Shitake mushrooms grow as large as a dinner plate, are as meaty as portobello, and are suggested anti-cancer agents. They grow in freshly cut logs.

Mike chooses special hardwood logs he gleans from the fence rows around the farm. These are fresh-cut limbs (only) and cut into about three-foot lengths. He then drills them and inoculates them with sawdust spawn (available commercially). A quick cheese wax seal and off they go to the woods. He waits about a year before forcing the logs to ‘flourish’ by soaking them in water. Sometimes, Mother Nature takes care of that herself by giving us so much rain the logs are soaked before their time. This year is like that.

Once the mushrooms appear on the logs, they must be kept pretty dry. An occasional rain doesn’t harm, so long as they dry afterwards, but a soaking rain causes the mushroom to expand like soggy kitchen sponges and renders them unusable. You can literally squeeze the water out of soggy mushrooms.

When the weather is normal, it takes about a week to ten days for the mushrooms to appear and we pick them daily. They are immediately refrigerated or dried for sale at the local farmers market. Shame of it is, Memorial Weekend is our biggest sales time, because the mushrooms are great on the grill with a bit of soy sauce and parmesan cheese. Because they are thick, they need to be oiled first, the caps filled with a little liquid as they cook (beer works great), and will take a little longer to cook than most other mushroom varieties. They are a great substitute for hamburger meat for the vegetarian-minded.

We also use shitakes in soups, stews, and as dressings in meat (especially good in pork). They absorb the flavor of a meat or vegie broth and also enhance that flavor with their woodsy flavor. We don’t care for them as much raw as we do, say, an oyster mushroom, which is light and delicate, and we grow those too, though some people prefer them that way. The shitakes give a ‘tooth’ that is oh-so-much more meaty and flavorful than the white button mushrooms many of us grew up buying from the grocery.

Mushroom production, for now, is at a standstill in the woods, although as the weather clears there will be thousands to pick. Meanwhile, it’s time to ramp up the garage production of oyster, lions mane, and enoki…I’ll talk about that a little tomorrow. Meanwhile, it rained here again last night and looks like it will again any minute. Wonder if we can get across the creek to the calves….

PS If you want to see some pictures of the tornado devastation in the midwest, I recommend: http://humanfactorblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/2011-midwest-tornado-devastation-pictorial/ A few years ago, I saw the aftermath of an EF05 tornado while on business in north central Tennessee. As bad as the pictures show it, they cannot convey the ‘feel’ of the tornado. For example, I saw a hilltop that once had a few trees and grass on it that afterwards was only topsoil. The tornado even took the sod off the hillside. That’s not something a photographer is likely to shoot, but is nonetheless indicative of the power of the wind. If you look closely at the Human Factor’s pictures, you’ll see places where grass is no longer visible. Some of it may have simply washed away, but I suspect the tornado in Joplin took some of it, as well.

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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