Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes. – Louisa May Alcott
Certain foods are unique to farm life. ‘Green beans and new potatoes’ is a staple among those relished comfort foods which country people greatly anticipate. The season’s first potatoes are simmered with fresh green beans, a little onion, and fat back or ham as a robust accompaniment to whatever meat is served as an entree at family dinners, church socials, and town diners. ‘Beans and taters’ is almost the symbolic first sign of summer.
Our green beans have not come on quite yet, but we canned hundreds of quarts last summer and there are plenty to go with the treasures we dig for dinner. You cannot eat food any fresher than digging it up, rinsing it with the hose, then preparing it to eat! It is our good fortune that the potato plants have not been affected by the flood-turned-drought conditions of the last couple of weeks. The tomatoes and sweet corn, however, need some rain.
(As I’m writing this, I see a pair of wild turkeys in the asparagus garden. They know they are safe and will likely bring their brood to the same spot later this season, just as two pairs did last summer. Eddie is quietly fascinated by them, too. Fritz is not so quiet.)
Without the needed rain, the tomatoes are growing slowly and will not need to be staked for a while. In a way, that’s good. Mike can concentrate on repeating his shiitake mushroom experiment from last year.
As I have mentioned, we grow shiitake mushrooms in the woods normally. Last year, Mike tried production in the old tobacco barn located on the farm with fairly good results, though the jury is still out on which method is better. The barn does have the advantage of sheltering the mushroom logs from summer soakings, which rendered the ‘shrooms unuseable.
He begins by soaking the inoculated logs for a day or so in plain water.
Then he stacks the logs to optimize air circulation and light.
In about a week to ten days, the shiitakes begin to emerge from the logs.We use our own term for that…pimples…not exactly an industry-standard terminology.Within days the pimples form mushrooms which can grow as large as a dinner plate, even if what most people buy are only about three inches across.
There is nothing wrong with the larger mushrooms. They are simply larger versions of the mushrooms; no flavor or texture change occurs. As with all shiitake, the stems tend to be fibrous and as with all shiitakes, the stems are normally not consumed unless dried and ground for mushroom tea, which the Japanese believe is a cancer preventative.
Once harvested, the mushroom logs rest for four to six weeks before being soaked and stacked again, although Mike limits the reuse to twice over the summer for better size and numbers. The logs will last, depending on diameter, between three and five years at which time they are almost completely degraded so the process of cutting the logs, inoculating the spawn, sealing and stacking is an ongoing process. The debris from the used logs goes back into the woods to feed the soil there.
Shiitakes have a unique look about them and normally do not grow wild in the United States, so there is no real fear of mistaking them for a poisonous mushroom. The vary in color from a light fawn to a dark taupe with lacey beige edges on the caps. The stems are also light beige and fasten firmly to the cap. They must be cut off with a knife when preparing them for a meal. And shiitakes are heavy for their size by comparison to other mushroom varieties. Think of the heftiness of a portobello, rather than the lightweight button mushroom. In recipes, they make an excellent meat substitute or supplement. Chopped and simmered with chicken, pork or beef, they will absorb the meat flavor, allowing the cook to use less animal protein in the dish, while imparting a woodsy mushroom flavor. Thus they are excellent in stews, stroganoffs, and even chili. They are also good in ‘Green Beans and New Potatoes’.