Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chicken of the Woods: Tree to Table
By Natalie

Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as Sulphur Shelf, is an easily recognized polypore (it's actually one of the "foolproof four," along with the Morel, Giant Puffball, and Shaggy Mane). Its bright yellow and orange hues stand out from the dark backdrop of the tree it's inhabiting. Year after year, and often several times in a season, the Chicken returns to the same spot (here on the farm, that's usually in late June and again in August). Last year we blogged about its biology, harvesting and preparation. To read last year's blog, click here: Tree Poultry.

Chicken at the base of a tree, indicating root rot.

This year we are trialing cultivation of Chicken of the Woods outdoors,
using the same method we use for outdoor cultivation of the OTHER tree poultry, Hen of the WoodsThe pure culture spawn was added to a sterilized oak log, allowed to incubate a few months, then taken out of the bag and shallowly buried in a shady spot outdoors this summer. We do not expect any fruiting this year, but arstill watching it closely.

Orange colored L. sulphureous colonized this sterilized oak log quickly.

But enough about biology, identification, foraging and cultivation: I want to talk about something almost as exciting as finding some Chicken: discovering new ways to prepare it! 

Last year I experimented with strips of the Chicken mixed with what seemed to be excessive amounts of a balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a season concoction, sealed tightly in foil and cooked on a hot grill. Why so much liquid you may ask? I had read that the Chicken gets quite thirsty while cooking. Who doesn't? :-)

The end result was delicious. After about 20-30 minutes on the grill and flipping the foil bag often, the Chicken had soaked up all of the liquid and was moist and tasty. I was ready to experiment more, but the Chicken found on the farm was done fruiting for the year. 

So this year, I've been waiting, and this week, the Chicken made its debut again (in the wild) here on the farm. Perfect time to try a new recipe and share it with the F&FP Team. I figured if it didn't turn out well, we just wouldn't talk about it. Anywhere. And if it did, then we'd share it. Since you're reading this now, you have probably already guessed that it was a hit. Even with all thcooking, the mushrooms remained firm and toothsome. Here's the recipe, hope you enjoy it: 

Iconic "tree poultry" - Hen of the Woods (back) and Chicken of the Woods (front).

Chicken of the Woods Risotto


1 lb. risotto rice
1 lb. Chicken of the Woods cut into 1/2 inch slices (use only the outer 3-4 inches of the specimen where it is still tender)
1 medium/large sweet onion, diced
1/2 bottle (375 mL) of dry white wine at room temp (chardonnay works well)
1 large can (49.5 oz.) chicken or vegetable broth (or homemade broth, if preferred) - heated
1 stick butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving (optional)

Chicken of the Woods strips sauteing in butter with diced sweet onion

Clean mushrooms by brushing off any debris or rinsing them lightly if necessary. Saute onion in butter (or a mixture of olive oil and butter if you prefer) over medium heat, until the onions turn translucent and start to break down. Mix the mushroom strips into the onions. Cover and let simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The risotto is added to the mushroom and onion mixture
Now it's time to add the rice to the mixture. Mix it in well so all rice is coated with butter/oil and stir often - do not let rice brown! When rice turns translucent at its edges (but still opaque in centers) after a few minutes, stir in about a third of the wine to deglaze pan. Turn heat up to medium/medium high, and simmer until wine is completely absorbed. It can't be stressed enough that you must constantly watch and stir risotto frequently, as the rice and mushrooms will absorb liquid very quickly. Repeat two more times, until all remaining wine is absorbed. 
Risotto simmering after each addition of broth
Now you will add in a ladle or two of heated broth at a time, simmering until it is absorbed. You want to add just enough liquid to keep rice cooking. Continue to repeat this process. Around 12 minutes in, start tasting the rice to see how far along it is, and to determine how much seasoning is needed. Risotto is ready when the rice is al dente, translated "to the tooth," meaning it is tender with a small bit of firmness in the center. As far as seasoning is concerned, I used just a bit of sea salt, as the stock adds quite a bit of flavor itself. The risotto should appear thickened and creamy. It typically takes the rice about 20 minutes or less to reach this stage
The risotto is done - dig in!
Serve immediately. Some people recommend adding in a pat of butter or a dash of warmed cream to the risotto right before serving . It is often served with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese as a topping. I served it without any additions so that we could better taste the mushrooms in this dish. And if you didn't enjoy the other half of the bottle of wine while preparing this dish, share it at the table!

Serving suggesting: Cold, thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with
olive oil and seasoned with fresh basil, cracked pepper and seas salt!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cut Your Wood Now, Worry Later
Written by Mary Ellen

Warm winds are regularly now bringing in temperatures of 50 degrees (F) in early March here in Northern Wisconsin. It's time to face the fact that we really are not going to have a winter, after all.  And we are not alone; everyone else in the lower 48 seems to be faced with the same conclusion. With the warm wind comes confusion … and panic over log cutting times and inoculation dates.

Shiitake logs waiting to be picked up.

Conflicting information abounds about when to cut wood for Shiitake cultivation and how long you can let it sit around before it has to be inoculated. The standard advice: cut the trees when dormant, inoculate by the time hot weather arrives (or as the Japanese say, by cherry blossom time). Should be simple, right? Sure enough though, we’ve heard everything from aging the wood 6 months to getting wood inoculated within 3 days, or no later than two weeks after felling or as soon as possible after felling. And the list goes on and on. And of course there are nuances ... softer woods should be inoculated as soon as possible, as should summer cut wood. But that’s a subject for another blog post! As with life in general, there is the "Best Practices" category and then there is the "Do Our Best" category. At F&FP, we definitely find ourselves in the latter category when it comes to log inoculation. 

These logs, restacked from a forestry site, are awaiting inoculation.

Best Practices:

DO cut the trees while dormant.  This is the period where water in the inner bark is low, insuring tight bark retention for the life of the log, and the amount of carbohydrates is high.  Bud swell is a visual indication of dormancy breaking. To the unpracticed eyes, dormancy means no leaves, even itty bitty ones. In fact it means little green in the buds at all; the buds being tight.

DO let the wood age or "cure"… at least 2 weeks if possible. Though inoculating immediately after cutting the wood will not kill the spawn, it may not “invite” hyphal growth for a time period, so in essence spawn becomes a “sitting duck” for awhile. If spawn sites, sawdust spawn in particular, are not properly sealed, there is a risk of it drying out if the logs are subject to wind and warmth before growth commences. Inoculation between 2-4 weeks of felling is probably ideal but picking the "perfect time" will depend on weather, geographic location, wood species, location of the tree and location of wood ON the tree, diameter and bark thickness and where and how the wood is cured. 

DON’T let the wood dry out. How much curing time is determined by the rate of drying. Here is where you have some control … if you want to inoculate very soon after felling, stack the logs loosely with lots of air space (but still keep them out of direct sun where the bark may get excessively hot, causing some disease problems and uneven drying).On the other hand, wood cut in the dormant period can wait for months to inoculate after felling if they dry slowly, such as in cold, snow covered locations. If you are concerned that wood cut very early in the dormant season (such as fall) is too dry (after months of cool weather laying in the woods), take a moisture sample. Optimal moisture content in bed logs is 40-45 % moisture, but growth is possible from 20-47%.  

If it is going to be a month or more before you inoculate your wood from the date of felling, bulk stack the wood in a protected area away from direct sun to slow the drying and keep the bark cool. 

Do Our Best:

Bottom Line,  for best results, get your wood cut now, but don’t let the hurry of and early spring allow for poor choice of tree selection in the woods; fall is only a few months away and is also a great time for inoculation! Once you’ve procured your wood, relax and then schedule your inoculation. Have a few tarps or another porous material such as pine or cedar boughs handy to cover the logs and prepare a protected place to stack your logs while you get everything else together.

Waxing log ends and big branch wounds
People are often willing to spend the extra time and money to melt a big pot of wax and dip log ends to seal in the moisture and keep out contaminants as the wood cures. Waxing log ends might slow the drying rate and will certainly allow you to see spawn run at the log ends even under dry conditions. What keeps moisture in will also keep moisture out so if you are soaking logs to force fruit them, it is best to not wax log ends. If you have very large logs (greater than 8 inches in diameter) that will not be force fruited and will be curing for months prior to inoculation (northern states: think harvest in February and inoculation in May) waxing may be helpful but certainly not essential. If you have large cuts where branches were trimmed away (greater than 4 inches in diameter)waxing those wounds is helpful

What if you can't inoculate your logs in a timely fashionWhen is the wood too dry? Do I soak the logs in water before I inoculate?
If you know its going to be at least a month after felling the wood before inoculation, bulk stack the wood in a shaded, protected location. If weather is warm, dry and windy for several weeks, water the logs for 1-2 hours at least weekly and loosely cover. 
 You can generally gauge the curing progress of the wood by checking the cracks at the end of the logs. Cracks begin from the center of the wood and move outward; fine cracks reaching halfway from center to the the bark indicate that the  inoculation conditions are about rightIf the cracks are large (you can slide a dime into the largest cracks)consider soaking the logs 24-36 hours and letting them dry a day before inoculation.

Overall, tree selection, timing of cut, log storage and timing inoculation is almost just as much of an art as it is a science. Our goal at Field and Forest Products is to provide people with information so they can make the best possible decisions when it comes to growing mushrooms.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Be Thankful for All That Inspires
by Mary Ellen

Swiss chard is always the last thing from the garden that I prepare for the freezer because it stands up so well to frost that I can put off harvest for weeks and weeks and weeks. "If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done," said Rita Mae Brown. But with all things biological, timing is everything and when I finally made it out to the garden this is what I found:

Here is what is left of our garden's
gorgeous leafy "Bright Lights" chard.

We have a 6 ft. tall garden fence, but we also have a really healthy deer population. Oh well. I am pretty much over canning and freezing produce anyway.

The good thing about my garden discovery is that it took me past an old Blewit bed that I had made years ago. Sometimes I need a little inspiration when it comes to cooking. Homegrown, fresh harvested vegetables usually provide the spark needed to initiate some creativity in my kitchen. So when I spied a few late flushing Blewits on my way out of the garden, my spirits perked considerably.

Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda)
As with most cultivated fungi, there are quick and easy ways to plant and also more complex ways. And like most things in life, you usually get more the greater the effort. In our cultivation instructions for Blewit, we discuss two methods, both including layering lots of compost and lesser amounts of decomposed organic matter with spawn (the instructions are provided with orders of Blewit spawn, but also can be found on our website's Seasonal Planting Chart link under "Blewits in the Garden").

There are two things I really appreciate about Blewits. One is their lovely lilac color and fairly dense flesh. The second is their long fruiting period in the fall. The fall Blewit is Clitocybe nuda, formerly known as Lepista nuda. I don't know what the etyology of nuda is except that the earlier Blewits grown under warmer temperatures tend to have a fleshy color and appearance. Later Blewits tend to be a little more true blue. Recently, we have been cultivating another Blewit, also known as Blue Leg, whose scientific name is Clitocybe sordida. This Blewit looks very different than Clitocybe nuda and fruits quite a bit earlier, usually mid to late august. It lacks the bulbous stem and meaty cap, instead developing a thin stalk and knobby cap. It is a nice litter decomposer that can be grown later in the summer. We will be offering this species for the first time in 2016, so watch for it if you're interested in growing it!

Blue Leg or Clitocybe sordida

But for now, I have to share this delicious creation, because if you are a gardener like me, right now you probably have too much squash on hand. Here is a way to reduce your porch stash of squash by at least one!

The recipe below will help you clear a path to your kitchen door
(and fill some seats at your table)!

Inspired Blewit and Spaghetti Squash Gratin
This layered gratin is a take-off on pasta alfredo, but better and certainly more healthful. The squash is the base layer, followed by a tomato layer and then topped with a ricotta custard decorated with thick slices of roasted Blewit. Consider purchasing whole milk ricotta for this dish for even richer flavor.

Gratin just out of the oven.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wack the squash across the middle with a cleaver and scoop out the seeds.
Roast the Squash and Blewits: Place the halves cut side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake until tender, about 50-60 minutes. Meanwhile, stem the Blewits and thickly slice the caps. Brush them with olive oil and lay out on a cookie sheet and roast until they brown on the edges, about 20 minutes (you can use any mushroom, but it's a nice way to use Blewits if you only have a few). Set aside when done. When the squash is tender, let it cool a bit and scoop out its stringy flesh, separating it with a fork. Season with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.

Tomato Layer: All you need is a few cups of sauce to cover the squash once it is spread out on the bottom of the gratin pan. I used a homemade sauce with roasted vegetables, but you can use whatever sauce you like. A chunky sauce with texture works nicely.

Custard Layer:
1 c ricotta cheese
1 c milk
1/4 c grated Asiago or other hard cheese
2 eggs
1/4 heaping  tsp salt and pepper
Whisk all together

Butter a gratin pan (I used a 2 qt. casserole dish). Lay down a layer of squash, spoon the tomato sauce over it, and then pour the ricotta custard over the top. Place the Blewit slices in a decorative fashion on top, and bake at 350°F for 40-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Was it good? I ate a half pan in one night :-) Enjoy!

Layers of squash, tomato. cheesy custard and Blewit,
paired with a green salad. You'll be very thankful.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Road Less Traveled: 
F&FP in Africa (Part 2)
by Laura

Oysters fruiting from small thin plastic bags filled with chopped cornstalk substrate
in Malawi, Africa. These particular bags contain high bacterial contamination.

The Tisange Association in Malawi, Africa have only been growing oyster mushrooms since March of 2015. They received their initial training from another group in Malawi called Chalera. Last year, a CNFA volunteer, Matthew Cleaver, trained them in the basic principles of oyster mushroom production, mostly covering different substrate treatment methods. Matthew and I are both volunteering this year, and met upon arrival at the airport in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital).

The Chalera group dancing and singing with excitement.

One of the first things we did after settling in was visit the farm of the Chalera group. It was simply amazing! They were so happy to see Matt, they broke out into song and dance. I was told that they were singing about mushroom production. It was such a welcoming experience. Malawi is referred to as the warm heart of Africa, and I can see why! We only stayed a short while because our assignments were located elsewhere. Matt was to stay in the city working directly with the Natural Resource College (where some of the spawn is made), while I would travel 5 hours north to Mzuzu to meet the members of the Tisange Association.

The typical landscape in Mzuzu. Walls are placed around some residences and public places
for security reasons. Most of the landscape is being farmed in one way or another.

Meeting the group was peaceful. They too were welcoming (although not breaking out into song), but they were quiet toward me. I suppose they were just as curious about my knowledge in the field as I was about what concepts they had a strong grasp upon. I was traveling with a translator named Limbi. He is a local that speaks excellent English, as well as Chitumbuka (the local language).

Our first training day consisted of a lecture in the host’s home (which would also serve as our classroom each day), and then I asked them to walk me through their current process. We tried to split days up, half inside lecturing, and half outdoors doing hands on work. The group had become very discouraged by high contamination rates, and low mushroom production. I had to do my best to determine why they were experiencing such high contamination.

Corn stalks are chopped in preparation for pasteurization.
From left to right members: Love, Clement, Agery, and Khumbo.

The Tisange Group is using dried corn stalks and leaves as a primary substrate for growing oyster mushrooms. They have used dried banana leaves in the past too, but this time of year the corn material is highly available, and free to the farmers. Mushroom growing is done as a group, but each individual specializes in other various crops, including corn (maize), which almost everyone grows. Before growing mushrooms, these stalks were simply composted. The substrate is chopped and washed using soap and water. The water at this particular farm is treated by the city, and is drinkable (this is not the case in all areas in Malawi). The water does come with a high cost, and aside from the spawn is the most expensive part of each batch that is produced.

Ester just finished pre-washing the substrate. It is quite dirty.
The stalks are currently piled in the open, and are exposed to blowing dirt and debris. 
Fifteen liters of water are heated to boiling, 250g of hydrated lime is added, and dumped over the substrate which is contained within a large plastic bucket with lid. I took note immediately that the substrate was simply floating on top of the water, not being held down in anyway. Even if held down, fifteen liters is not enough water to cover the substrate. Using a compost thermometer that I brought along I measured the water temperature (something the group had never done prior). Immediately it dropped to 180 degrees (F), but within 15 minutes it had dropped to nearly 140 degrees (F) where it stayed at until the 30 minute soak was finished. Typically we recommend a longer soak between 45 minutes to an hour with a temperature that remains between 160-170 degrees (F).

Boiling water is poured over the substrate, but quickly the temperature
goes down below what is recommended for pasteurization. 
After the pasteurization process, the substrate is dumped out in order to drain and cool.
This process was being done outside with direct exposure to the elements. Depending
on how much the sun shines, this process can take nearly two hours. The group squeezes
the substrate to test for adequate moisture. If only a drop or two comes out, it is ready to inoculate. The substrate is then put into plastic tubs and brought in the house for inoculating. 
Once treated, the substrate is allowed to drain and cool in the open air. 
This farm has the basic concepts down for growing oysters on substrate, but minor adjustments must be made in order to best avoid contamination. Stay tuned for some
simple solutions I was able to offer them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tree Poultry - Chicken of the Woods
By Nik

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as Sulphur Shelf, is an easily recognized polypore (it's actually one of the "foolproof four," along with the Morel, Giant Puffball, and Shaggy Mane) that has many special qualities that are often overlooked. In this blog, we will explore how and what to look for, how it can be grown, a bit of its biology and the aforementioned special qualities, and how to prepare it for a delicious treat. Join us, after the jump.

The author staring longingly at his quarry.

As alluded to in the opener and in the above picture, Chicken of the Woods is rather easy to spot. Its bright yellow and orange hues (which can add nice contrast against darker Shiitake and pastel Oysters in a Farmers' Market mix, by the way) jump out at you from the dark backdrop of the tree it's inhabiting. These large clusters and obvious color patterns are telltale signs that you have stumbled into the metaphorical coop (thankfully, these "chickens" don't run around erratically after they're removed from the tree). Another trait that denotes this fungus is its perennial nature. Year after year, and often several times in a season, the Chicken returns to the same spot (here on the farm, that's usually in late June and again in August).

Chicken of the Woods emerging from old branch stub wound

At the base of the tree, indicating root rot

Now let us slip on our lap coats and discuss our attempts at growing the Chicken commercially and the biology behind it. Here at F&FP, we have only attempted to grow the Chicken indoors on sterilized sawdust, as a curiosity. These attempts have all failed, but like with many of our other curiosity-driven experiments, we will continue until we find another way around the wall.

Other spawn producers do sell Chicken of the Woods, most often in plug form similar to our Shiitake plugs. There are two reasons we have steered clear of working on log cultivation of this fungus. The primary reason is that the Chicken is both parasitic and saprobic, meaning that it establishes itself (usually first through wounds when the tree is living) and then continues to fruit long after the tree has snapped off or uprooted. This is one of the reasons we cross our fingers when high winds cruise through the farmstead. The trees snap both midway up from a past infection or uproot from Chicken-caused root rot. The second reason is that there is already plenty of it around, so we tend to not want to encourage more.

Chicken of the Woods is quite abundant in NE Wisconsin, corresponding with the abundance of 130+ year old Northern Pin Oak. If we were diligent in walking the property throughout the summer to harvest them on time, we would have gluttonous amounts for both ourselves and our farmers' market customers. The Chicken also thrives in eastern North American forest types (think mixed deciduous).

There are several other Laetiporus species, two of which are found east of the Missouri River (like L. cincinnatus). You can tell the differences based on which tree they're growing on (and where it is growing), as well as what color the pores underneath the top surface of the mushroom are. The White Chicken has white (duh) pores and is found growing soil from associated tree roots and at the base of the tree (unlike the Yellow Chicken which grows at the base and on areas of the trunk). L. huroniensis grows mostly in the Great Lakes area on Hemlock. L. gilbertsonii also grows on Eucalyptus and Live Oak in the Gulf area and in the coastal western US, L. conifericola is found on conifers.

Let's briefly investigate a Chicken of the Woods lookalike: Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus). Some who are not familiar with the Chicken will assume this is the real deal. Though it is edible, you will need to be armed with an industrial-strength mandible and routinely do jaw exercises for endurance and strength. Plus, it really isn't all that tasty. You can see the difference in the photos below:

Dryad's Saddle on an ancient Box Elder stump

For the final course, I will leave you with some culinary ideas that utilize the Chicken. It is best harvested when young while its edges are still thick-rimmed with plenty of yellow coloration. Once the edges thin, you will want to only use the outer 3-4 inches of the specimen where it is still tender, so it pays to stroll frequently through the woods equipped with a bag and a knife. If harvesting for a farmers' market, pick freshest specimens only and take the entire cluster, trimming right before market if necessary. Keep refrigerated until market day! On to the recipes...

Grilled/Parchment Roasted Chicken of the Woods
Parchment-roasted Chicken of the Woods in a white cream sauce over toast,
with garden-fresh basil, cucumbers, and heirloom tomatoes 
This method is totally open to experimentation, and in the end the mushrooms and the resulting broth can be used either as a main course or a nice supplement. You will need:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar (if you don't care for the acidity of vinegar, you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock with a dash of lime)
2 tablespoons honey  (mix with the vinegar/stock)
4 cups sliced Chicken of the Woods
3/4 cup olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste and a few branches of fresh thyme (optional)

Cut Chicken of the Woods into 1/4 - 1/2 inch slices and place on tin foil (if grilling) or parchment (roasting). Mix together oil, vinegar, and honey and pour over the slices. It will seem like a lot of liquid but use it all, as it will steam the mushrooms to tender perfection. Season and lay the thyme (if using it) on top. Seal foil or parchment into a leak-proof package by folding the edges in and crimping the corners. Bake (375-400) for 30 minutes, flipping the package at least once.

Drizzling the vinegar/honey/oil mix onto sliced Chicken of the Woods
Parchment packet, just before the flip
If you want chewy, glazed Chicken fingers, bake until parchment is browned and the contents are glazed with a thin, rich syrup. For lighter steamed mushrooms with plenty of broth to enrich with a cream sauce to pour over toast or soup, roast for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

To snack-a-tize your Chicken of the Woods, cut the vinegar from the recipe and have Ranch dressing available for a dipping sauce! Enjoy!

To continue your deep dive into the realm of the Chicken of the Woods, visit