Indicators of Life: Rising Mushrooms Can Affiliate One With Spring In The Darkness Of Winter – Life-style – Aurora Advertiser – Aurora, MO
As the dark days of the year haunt us inside, we look for ways to stay connected with the earth. Seed catalogs, houseplants, frozen broccoli from last year’s garden – all reminders that life goes on and will come again.
Let’s add mushrooms to the list of winter trails to fit into the cycle of life.
A few months ago I bought mushrooms at the farmers market from a serious looking grower with a stall full of mushrooms of various shapes and colors, including lion’s mane, chestnut, and assorted varieties of oysters. They were displayed in baskets like flower arrangements.
The mushroom grower was noticeably cleaner than the dirt farmer, and after learning a little more about mushroom growing, that made sense.
Mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of subterranean fungal mycelia, don’t need light to grow, making them an obvious part of a well-rounded conservatory and more of a scientific project. One could argue that family farms are like a giant compost heap on which bacteria move freely from dirt to compost to crops. This is not an unsafe situation as there are bacterial and fungal spores everywhere and we live with them. But mushroom growers, while riding the same chaotic life forces, must be vigilant of contamination so that the wrong spores don’t take hold. While a farmer plants seeds in dirt, which is essentially an extension of the compost heap, a mushroom grower inoculates the substrate under aseptic conditions.
The grower shared an important distinction between commercial mushroom varieties like White Button and Portobello, both of which belong to the species Agaricus, and the varieties that most small-scale farmers like him prefer. Agaricus grows on compost, which can be made from many different things, including manure, which begs the question of where the manure was collected. If it comes from the stable where the racehorses do their business, it could contain antibiotics, steroids, and other chemicals. Whether the nitrogen comes from manure or chemical urea, using compost adds to the uncertainty.
Our mushroom grower only works with mushrooms that grow on dirty sawdust-based “wood substrates” which explains why it looked cleaner than its dirt-growing neighbors.
When we paid my son asked if the mushrooms could be eaten raw.
“I believe mushrooms should be cooked to suit their flavors and to make their nutrients more accessible,” said the grower. “Fungal cells have rigid walls that prevent the nutrients from being absorbed, but heat will destroy those walls and release the nutrients.”
He added, “If you want to give the mushrooms a more raw feel, give them a light fry in oil or butter with white wine or balsamic vinegar and serve them on a salad where you can still feel that raw freshness as you go at the same time access all nutrients. “
I wanted to serve my mushrooms with meat so I wanted something funnier. In the end I cooked it in butter with chopped onions and nutmeg, alternatively had it deglazed with dry sherry and chicken broth and ended with a squeeze of lemon and a few drops of cream. I cooked them with sliced mushrooms to collect, as I always do with precious or semi-precious stone mushroom fruit bodies. You end up having more and it won’t dilute the taste.
Last fall, the mushroom grower started selling kits at the farmers market. Made of pressed wood chips and mushroom mycelia, these trunks are the rough size and shape of a loaf of bread and are wrapped in plastic and can sprout when splashed. They are fun and satisfying to grow, like any garden. You watch it develop and change and you get so many mushrooms.
On the longest and darkest night of the year, we left add-on kits on the doorstep of friends. A few weeks later, a jar of mushroom pie appeared on our doorstep, made by a friend who had successfully grown and harvested mushrooms from the kit. She said the recipe came to her in a dream that seems appropriate. These are the days of darkness after all.
Peyla’s dream pie
Makes about 1 cup
• ½ pound of oyster or chestnut mushrooms
• 3 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
• ¼ cup of olive oil
• ½ teaspoon salt and pepper
• 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon lemon peel
• ½ cup chopped green onions
Toss the mushrooms in olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic and bake at 375 F for 15 minutes. Let cool. Add the lemon and onion and puree in a food processor or by chopping. The blender makes it too smooth.