Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shrooming, part 2

As I mentioned in the last post, I am now a mushroom farmer of very small scale. I have 10 shiitake logs, which should begin to fruit a year from now and produce about 2.5 pounds each over approximately 5 years. This is not nearly enough to satisfy my personal demand, so I'll continue to be a good customer at the farmer's market and Oryana, but I'm still very excited to find an edible crop that is suited for my shady back yard and requires minimal effort.

my shiitake farm
I acquired these logs a few weeks ago at an all-day workshop I attended at the beautiful Ware Farm near Bear Lake. Bernie and Sandee Ware are marvelous organic farmers, growing delicious asparagus and succulent strawberries as well as many varieties of veggies. Bernie got turned on to shiitakes by fellow organic farmer Jim Moses, introduced in the previous blog post, and now has hundreds of shiitake logs in the wooded areas of his farm.

Back in early April, Bernie joined forces for a day with ISLAND -- a small, innovative local non-profit inspired to promote community self-sufficiency and ecological sanity through a blend of programs celebrating art and nature. On ISLAND's tiny staff is the intrepid Yvonne Stephens, who with her husband, Jason, have become mushroom evangelists. For this one-day workshop, the Stephenses and the Wares procured all the materials necessary for inoculating 100 maple logs, cut by Bernie on his farm the previous day.The 10 lucky workshop attendees took turns at one of three stations: drilling, inoculating and waxing. (Being nervous of power tools, I skipped the drilling station). At the end of the day, which included a delicious potluck lunch featuring soups Sandee had prepared with their shiitakes, we each took home 10 inoculated logs and the knowledge to care for them.

I also learned that I have much yet to learn about mushrooms. I fancy myself to be at least marginally knowledgeable of most culinary inputs and procedures, yet I was surprised to learn from Sandee that shiitakes can be dried and powdered and used in soups or gravies as a flavoring and thickening agent. Fabulous!

I haven't even begun to explore the medicinal uses of shiitakes and other mushrooms, nor the ecological benefits (just this week I saw a story about oyster mushrooms breaking down disposable diapers), but I know where to find the ultimate guru. His name is Paul Stamets and he's the high prophet of the mushroom people. I have his book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, which is exceptionally comprehensive. I'm pretty sure Yvonne and Jason have all of his books, and I may soon get to that level of mushroom mania.

I purchased my sole mushroom book a few years ago at our local Bioneers conference after I was so entranced by Stamets' presentation that to this day I still can't remember anything else I saw or heard at the conference. He was on stage at the large national conference in California (we watched via satellite) and as it began, it was painfully obvious that he would much rather be out in the forest than in front of a large audience. He stammered and confessed to being a shy and awkward speaker. But as he continued, I was mesmerized. He introduced me to a fungi kingdom that is mysterious, magical, powerful, intricate and abounding with potential to restore and heal our planet and ourselves.

I haven't been able to find a complete video of Stamets' Bioneers speech online, but at the bottom of the biography page on his company's website is a link to a very similar presentation he made for TED.

And now, one of my favorite recipes for shiitakes, adapted from Thomas Kelller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook (his recipe is for morels):

Shiitakes in Madeira

1 lb (roughly) fresh shiitakes
4 tbsp butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 tsps fresh thyme
1/2 cup Madeira
salt and pepper to taste

Clean the mushrooms, if necessary, with a brush or wet paper towel, or just wash them in a bowl of water and rub them dry. Remove the stems (can cook them in 1-2 cups of water to make a quick base for miso soup later) and slice any large caps. Heat the butter in a large skillet and cook the shallot for a couple of minutes. Add the thyme and the shiitakes and stir around for another minute or so, then add the Madeira and cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

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