Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Lesson in Oyster Mushroom Production: Malawi, Africa

by Laura Kahles

Many of the members that were trained from Naomi Mushroom Farmers.

It has been just over two weeks since I have returned home from another successful trip to Malawi. As the oyster mushroom specialist here at Field & Forest I have been given some wonderful opportunities thanks to CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture) and the Farmer-to-Farmer Program funded by USAID. I also must note the support I have received from Joe and Mary Ellen here at F&FP! How often can one just take off of work to volunteer in Africa? I suppose this rarity is just one of the appeals of working for a mushroom spawn company run by two polish mushroomers with big hearts.

Julia is a long time mushrooms producer that I visited in a nearby village. She has been producing oyster mushrooms on a small scale for over 10 years.

For this most recent trip I was teaching a group of farmers that refers to themselves as the Naomi Mushroom Farmers in Mchinji, Malawi. I formally taught about 38 individuals, but also reached out to many others in nearby villages. This group was already producing oyster mushrooms, but needed to improve production. They were also interested in being introduced to button mushroom production. For this trip, however, the lesson in white buttons was brief. With no source of compost, and some intense heat around the corner we all agreed the focus should remain on oyster mushrooms.

Oyster mushroom bags hang in a traditional mushroom grow house. Contamination is obvious, but oyster mushrooms can still fruit with limits to yield. 

Most of what I saw in Malawi at the various farms I visited were heavily contaminated oyster bags. Inadequate pasteurization combined with overly wet substrate contributes to a majority of the contamination. Other common mistakes included, waiting to put holes in the substrate bags (this allows for fermentation, and weakening of the mycelium), low humidity, and storage of healthy bags with contaminated bags. The great news is that these farmers were willing to make the appropriate changes needed to improve conditions.

While there we planted three different varieties of oyster mushroom: Pink, Pohu, and Grey Dove. All of these are favorites of mine for growing in Malawi due to their fast colonization, and aggressiveness. I worked with these farmers for just under two weeks. Pink was the first oyster we planted, and I am happy to say that when I arrived back into the United States I had received a text message with pictures of pinning pink oyster mushrooms! Seeing these pins brings me great joy. I just wish I had still been in Malawi to share the excitement with the farmers. Maybe next time :)

The fruits of our labor growing on maize stalks (straw is not available).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Normal Looking Wine Cap Defined, Plus a Recipe for Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

by Mary Ellen Kozak

In the spring and late fall, Wine Cap mushrooms can look different than expected. Just like spring Shiitake, (Weird and Crazed Shiitake: Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect) spring grown Wine Caps can be freakish enough that people send us of photos of what they hope to be Wine Caps... but are just not quite sure.

Exposure to swings in temperature and humidity during early
mushroom development creates interesting looking Wine Caps

More than any other time of the year, the spring season gives us the most unusual looking Wine Caps. Why it happens: Most of this variability in appearance is caused by spring's wild swings in temperature, low humidity and vigorous exposure to winds (and the fact that there's limited vegetation available to shield developing mushrooms). Later in the summer, cooling evenings bring high humidity and also a pretty dramatic reduction in wind speed, which affect humidity from the knee down - creating ideal conditions for cap development.

Wine Cap - with cap color as we'd expect it to be

When you know you've inoculated Wine Cap into wood chips or straw but are questioning the identity of the emerging mushrooms in your bed, check for other identifiable structures. The cap is usually the most variable. To better identify mushrooms that do not look as you'd expect, make sure to lift up the entire mushroom, including the stem attachment to the soil, by digging deep into the wood chips, straw or soil.

Dig into the wood chips to lift up the mushroom, stem and all, for proper identification

If you are new to Wine Cap cultivation in ALL its seasons, you may find the chart below to be helpful in confirming your harvest. If you ever have any questions about Wine Cap identification, please call us, or better yet, email us a photo, and we'll be glad to help you.

One of my favorite ways to prepare Wine Caps involves harvesting the buttons early (this is especially important if you are growing them in straw beds, as they tend to quickly attract mushroom flies). These little jewels can be sliced in half or quartered and lightly braised in a savory broth with fresh asparagus spears. Both the Wine Caps and asparagus are plate-ready, crunchy fresh and perfect for a tiny desk lunch. If you'd like, you may add other seasonings such as shallot, chili or cumin seeds for a stronger flavor to amplify the delicate flavors of the mushrooms and asparagus.

Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

6-8 (or more) small spears of asparagus
1 cup of Wine Cap buttons, sliced in half or quartered
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 c chicken or vegetable broth, wine or oil

Trim the straw (or wood chips) off the mushrooms and rinse them

Half or quarter the Wine Caps and trim the asparagus

Add 1 tsp of oil to a heated saute pan. Add the mushrooms and let them get caramel brown, especially on the cut edges. Add the asparagus, 1/2 c broth and put the lid on, steaming the asparagus and mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Plate and enjoy. Serves 1-2.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Is Grain Spawn or Sawdust Spawn Better for Oyster Mushroom Production on Straw?
by Laura Kahles

From left to right: Italian, Golden and Pink Oyster mushroom growing on pasteurized straw.

I have been growing oyster mushrooms on straw for just over five years now. The opportunity to hand this task off onto other F&FP members has come up, but I just can't give it up. Why not, you might ask. My best guess...there is still so much to learn about this fascinating process. After five years, I still have unanswered questions, and more research to complete.

For anyone who is not familiar with the process, I will briefly explain. Chopped straw is pasteurized (cooked) in hot water to reduce the amount of contaminates it may contain (ie. molds, bacteria). After the straw drains and cools it is inoculated (planted) using oyster mushroom spawn (seed). After only a few short weeks beautiful oyster mushroom emerge, and can continue doing so for 2-3 months.

Here at F&FP our most popular type of spawn is called grain spawn. I use it when I can, but there are times when grain spawn becomes scarce here. The scarcity can happen for many different reasons including selling out, late grain delivery from our supplier, or equipment failures. When grain is in short supply I turn to the next best thing...sawdust spawn!

Which is better? I don't yet have a definitive answer to this question. As a professional I can see the good in both varieties. I can share with you what I do know at this point.

Grain spawn is easier to break up, and is easier to pour. A gentle massage of the bag will get the job done. If you have some pent up frustration I suggest you choose sawdust spawn. The oyster mycelium does a fine job of turning tiny sawdust particles into one solid brick that is easiest to break up with a firm fist. Do, however, be careful not to break the spawn bag.

Grain spawn breaks up easily, and adds extra nutrients.
Sawdust spawn has the advantage when it comes to spawn run time (time until full colonization). Grain particles are larger, and although they cover a larger surface area individually, there are not as many inoculation points as there are when sawdust is sprinkled throughout the straw. On average I have had mushroom pin formation two days earlier when using sawdust spawn.

Sawdust spawn is available in larger bags then grain, and it covers better allowing for more inoculation points.

Whether I use grain or sawdust I have gone to using a 5% inoculation rate. That is, 5% of the weight weight of the straw is the weight used in spawn. Bags of grain come in 4 lb. units and can plant about 4 sleeves (polyethylene 4 mil bags). Large bags of sawdust spawn come is 5.5 lb. bags and can plant 5 1/2 sleeves. If buying small quantities of spawn, sawdust ends up being the more economical choice. However, grain spawn requires buying a lesser amount of bags to receive our lowest price break. This makes grain spawn ideal for large scale commercial customers See the graphic below for our quantity discounting.

Now for the big question, which type of spawn produces more mushrooms? Remember earlier when I stated that I did not have all the answers...well, I don't have the answer to this just yet. I have seen some impressive numbers (in terms of yield) when using both grain spawn and sawdust spawn. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have seen low yields from both types. Most of the time my diminished yields are due to other factors including (but not limited to) dirty straw, humidifier issues, or fungus gnats (there are many joys to mushroom farming).

My goals for the future are to do more comprehensive yield comparisons, and figure out which additives (if any) can help boost yield even further for sawdust and/or grain spawn. I will be sure to post results as soon as they are available. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weird and Crazed Shiitake: 
Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect
by Mary Ellen Kozak

This spring a lot of new growers have been sending pictures of Shiitake that looks different than what they might have seen on their logs in the summer and fall, in the grocery store or on the web.

Early spring is the time of the classic "flower donko," an Asian grade of Shiitake that is ideal for drying. Due to cold nights, warm days, and large swaths of rain followed by dry spring winds, the thick cuticle of the mushroom cap stretches and cracks to make room for the swelling succulent tissue underneath and as a result of this, the mushroom gets a crazed, bumpy pattern that looks like big floral buttons.

Phoebe holding a Flower Donko Shiitake in a growing region of China where dried Shiitake are a specialty.
These mushrooms take very little time in the food dehydrator to dry and they loose very little size. The problem? If you are selling them as a fresh mushroom, they are very light weight and you have to explain to your customer that they are fairly dry in the fry pan so extra oil or liquid may be necessary to achieve the usual Shiitake texture. They are packed with nutrition and have excellent flavor though!

Any strain of Shiitake can become a flower donko if the conditions are right. Most often, cold weather Shiitake strains give us the largest percent of flower donkos because they like to fruit in the early spring. Frequently in cool, prolonged springs, the wide range and warm weather Shiitake will fruit and be subjected to the same cool, windy weather and also end up in the flower donko grade. It's all about the environment!

Spring Shiitake; Here is a box of West Wind Shiitake harvested after an early spring
warm up and and subsequent cool windy stretch of weather.

Summer Shiitake: Here is West Wind Shiitake after a forced fruiting in July.

Spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful mushrooms and they are a once-a-year seasonal item. Inoculating your logs with cold weather strains will give you the greatest percent of these jewels because they fruit when the weather provides the cold/warm/wet/dry environment. Unless you are drying them for long term storage, however, you may not want to let the mushrooms get quite so dry and cracked. We have actually spritzed boxes of these Shiitake with water and left them in the cooler with the lid on the box to let them absorb a little moisture. To avoid having to do that, read the tips in our blog post, Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake, to manage your developing Shiitake so they will become the thick, succulent spring Shiitake, just perfectly moist with a little bit of crazing on the cap for beauty.

Not your grandmother's coat button.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake:
Tips for the Best Early Crops

by Mary Ellen Kozak

The earliest harvested Shiitake of the season are also the most appreciated. The winters are long, and local farm fresh produce in spring is scarce. And spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms you'll ever grow. There are actually a few tricks you'll need to know to make your Shiitake logs fruit early in the season upon the heels of retreating snow.

1. Inoculate some logs with Cold Weather strains, like Miss Happiness, Snow Cap, Bellwether and Jupiter. If your logs are ready and spring comes on fast, you will see mushroom pins pebbling the bark on healthy logs within a week or two of the disappearance of the last patch of snow. Life for these strains really does begin after 40!

Spring Shiitake are also very beautiful.

2. Secure fruiting blankets, burlap or clear plastic around stacks of logs to keep humidity high with developing mushrooms. Drying wind is a big hurdle to clear in achieving great quality Shiitake in the spring. The nature of these cold weather strains is to pin in really cool weather, and because of this they develop slowly. The commonly vigorous spring wind poses a real threat in drying the caps and arresting mushroom development. Covering your logs with simple tarps will do wonders in helping the caps stay moist. Normally we do not recommended plastic coverings because they can heat the logs underneath too quickly or cause too much condensation to drip down upon developing mushrooms, but early spring is a fine time to use clear plastic sheeting. Note: In really windy spring weather, you can also wet a tarp of an absorbent fabric like an older, weathered fruiting blanket and secure plastic over it, creating an amazing humid fruiting chamber!

Log stacks are covered with fruiting or frost blankets to hold humidity around developing mushrooms. Notice the sprinkler on a pole being used to keep the blankets moist.

3. Don't soak the logs... but you can rain on them! If you don't have the time or blankets to cover all your log stacks but you can get a sprinkler out to them, do not hesitate to just turn it on! Caps will stay moist and pliable, growth will proceed just fine. Turn off the sprinkler when the caps start to open to let them dry off a little before harvest. The caps will be a little dark and glossy but for home use they are just fine!

Note: People do soak logs to stimulate fruiting and that is an essential technique for summer production. However, this is usually ineffective with cold weather strains. For logs inoculated with wide range or warm weather strains, temperatures need to stabilize at 70F for a few weeks before they will respond to a cold water soaking. Cold weather logs simply will not respond. Keep your soak tanks under cover until spring is here for sure.

These logs are being sprinkled to encourage fruiting and quality
for these cold weather Shiitake strains

Spring Shiitake are dense with a beautiful landscape of brown, white and cream on the cap top from the swelling and contracting of mushroom tissue caused by fluctuating cold and warm spring temperatures. With a little extra care you can nurture these developing mushrooms to become true woodland spring beauties. Celebrate and and cook up some with a recipe of spring bok choy, below.

Bellwether, a cold weather Shiitake strain

Spring Shiitake must be celebrated, and here at F&FP, the first ones go directly into the mouth as a welcome ritual and enjoyment of the cool, garlicky flavor unique to raw Shiitake. The two methods shown below are both easy and delicious ways to prepare Shiitake with another welcome spring vegetable, Bok Choy. The recipe below is inspired by Zorba Pastor from our local Public Radio station "Zorba Pastor on your Health". This recipe is fresh and light with a mild miso flavor. An even easier recipe (and you won't believe how easy) but slightly sweet and saltier follows and especially enhances the flavor of the Shiitake (as if it needs it)!

Shiitake Mushrooms and Miso Bok Choy

2T toasted sesame oil
1 T miso paste (I prefer white)
1T Rice vinegar
1 T grated fresh ginger root
1 lb fresh Shiitake, stemmed and sliced
1lb Bok choy
sesame seeds, cilantro or chopped scallion for garnish
cooked brown rice or soba noodles, for serving 

Heat a large saute pan and add oil. When warm, add mushrooms and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until Shiitake soften or brown slightly, depending on your preference. Then add miso paste, vinegar, ginger. Toss and coat the mushrooms and then add the bok choy. Cover until the mix is bright green and soft, about 3 minutes. Spoon over rice or noodles and add garnish. Serve and be delighted.

Shiitake Mushrooms and Oyster Sauced Bok Choy

Bok Choy
High quality Oyster Sauce
Toasted sesame oil

Heat a bit of oil in a wok. Add sliced mushrooms and salt lightly. Saute a few minutes until soft or browned at edges. Add sliced bok choy, stems and leaves both. Saute a few minutes and drizzle with Oyster sauce until warmed through - do not overcook, a minute or two maximum! Plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. So easy and so delicious!



Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mushroom Hors d'oeuvres Recipe
Contest Winners and their Kitchen Magic

by Mary Ellen Kozak

For years we have been in search of the perfect mushroom hors d'oeuvres; something beyond the idea of the stuffed button mushroom (delicious as they are). While we are still searching for a collection of room temperature mushroom hors d'oeuvres, we’d like to introduce the following winning recipes. They are hot mushroom heaven and relatively simple to make. Thank you to everyone who submitted a recipe for this contest. Cold buffet cooks: If you are looking for a recipe that doesn’t need to be served warm, there is nothing more tasty and simple than Shiitake Mushroom Butter served on a cracker or slathered on bread dough with cheese and baked into a chewy mushroom cheese bread. Buon Natale, Joyeux Noel and Merry Christmas!

This first place winning recipe was submitted by David Mitten of Chillicothe, Ohio. When Janice tried this recipe, she liked the versatility of the finished dish. “It can be used on pizza, crostini, puff pastry, or a flavorful meat like tenderloin - all great options.

First Place: Shiitake Mushroom Bacon and Cheese Dip

Shiitake Mushroom Bacon and Cheese Dip

6 strips of bacon, cut across grain into 1/8 inch slices
1/4 c (1 medium) shallot, finely diced
3 c (6-8 oz) fresh Shiitake caps diced into ¼ inch cubes (smaller if
this is to be used as a spread)

6 oz cream cheese, softened
3 oz grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 T dry sherry
¼ c mayonnaise
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

For serving:
1 loaf of crusty French bread, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch slices and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake at 350° F until slightly crisp. May also be served on a sturdy, good quality cracker.

Sauté bacon slices in a heavy skillet until crisp but not burnt. Remove bacon strips, leaving about 1 T of the drippings in the skillet. 

Add shallot and diced mushrooms to the drippings, and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until shallots and mushrooms are slightly brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Into a mixing bowl mix the cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire, sherry, black pepper, and mayonnaise.  Mix together and then add the shallots, mushrooms and bacon, incorporating all.  Scrape into a shallow casserole dish and bake at 350 until bubbly and slightly browned- about 20 minutes. The dip may alternatively be microwaved until bubbly but will not brown.

Serve immediately 

(I have refrigerated leftovers and used the "dip" in sauces and toppings. ~MEK")

David Mitten has been growing mushrooms for two years and keeps very busy
with many other natural and outdoor activities such as beekeeping, hiking, kayaking,
shooting and outdoor exploration in general, not to mention keeping up
with his wife Beth and two sons, Jeff and Jared.

We were delighted when farm market customer Amy Koffarnus from DePere, Wisconsin won 2nd Place. When I prepared the recipe at F&FP for a photo, there was a gasp and a crowd of staff around the plate... and then the tarts were gone. “My love for mushrooms has definitely changed and grown over the years," Amy says. "I finally took the time to buy my first kit from Field and Forest Products and will never look back. I asked Bridgett Lowery who runs 416 Cuisine LLC in DePere to teach a cooking class in my home. The recipe submitted is actually inspired by one she taught. I had insisted we used some of the mushrooms I bought at the farmers market just days before. These mushrooms really brought a lot of extra flavor to the appetizer as they do with any meal. I use them in egg bakes, stir-fries, mushroom spaghetti and homemade cream of mushroom soup. It doesn’t get any better then having them at your fingertips by growing them in your kitchen! Happy cooking!” 

2nd Place: Caramelized Onion Mushroom Gorgonzola Tarts
Caramelized Onion Mushroom Gorgonzola Tarts

1-2 packages of puff pastry shells
2 large onions
1 T butter
1 pound mushrooms (a blend of different mushrooms works well;
particularly Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms)

4 T butter
5 oz Gorgonzola cheese
4 oz cream cheese, softened
Arugula for garnish

To caramelize the onions, melt the butter in a saute pan while you thinly slice the onions. Sauté on very low heat, stirring often and adding a little water as necessary (about 45 mins). Reserve.

Meanwhile, remove the stems from the Shiitake and tough bits from the base of the Oyster mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and melt the 4 T butter. Sauté mushrooms over a medium high heat until excess liquid has evaporated, then lower the heat. Sauté mushrooms until just golden around the edges. Add reserved onions and cream cheese. Stir to combine, adding a bit of water, if necessary to make a creamy mixture. Stir in Gorgonzola.

Bake the shells according to package directions. Cool slightly on a rack and then spoon the filling into the shells, top with arugula and serve. 

3rd Place: Lion's Mane Puff Pastries

Damien Logan from Middletown, Ohio is the 3rd Place winner with his Lion’s Mane creation. We don't see a lot of recipe development with Lion’s Mane, so we were thrilled that this was a winner!

Damien was a young kid when his Dad first took him morel hunting. He doesn’t remember eating any mushrooms but must have had fun because his interest in mushrooms has definitely grown. “When I was old enough to participate in scouting, I found myself heavily focused in wilderness survival skills and studied wild edibles. I got pretty good with several local mushrooms, puffball being my favorite.” As an adult, Damien has hiked the entire Appalachian trail in under 6 months which utilized his outdoorsmanship and powers of observation in the natural world. The renewed interest in such things led to a study in permaculture and the integration of systems when working with home gardens. “I’ve come to a point in life where I expect to own a home within a year and will begin applying what I know to the property. Among these things is growing mushrooms within the garden as part of a woven system.”

Lion’s Mane Puff Pastries

1 T butter or olive oil
2 c chopped Lion’s Mane mushrooms
1/3 c finely chopped onion
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 T finely chopped chives
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 large egg
1 (17.3-oz) package frozen puff pastry sheets
2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter or oil in a sauté pan and add the onion and chopped Lion’s Mane, stirring until soft. Cook long enough to release some moisture from the mushrooms and to add a little color to the onion. Allow to cool to room temp, then refrigerate half an hour.

Beat the cream cheese in a mixer at a medium speed until smooth. Stir in mushrooms and onion mixture until combined. Add the Parmesan, chives, and paprika. Mix completely and cover. Chill 1 hour minimum, up to 24 hours.

Bring the pastry out of the freezer to thaw and preheat oven to 400° F. In a small bowl, whisk 1 T of water into the egg and set aside. Lightly flour your counter top, then roll the thawed puff pastry sheet into a 6 x 10 inch rectangle, roughly and cut in half lengthwise. 
Spread half of the cream cheese and mushroom mixture into the center of each rectangle, brushing edges with the egg mixture. Fold each pastry half lengthwise over the filling. Pinch the edges to seal them, then cut each pastry into 10 pieces, and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.Repeat process with remaining puff pastry sheet. (Optional: Freeze prepared but uncooked tarts on a baking sheet for an hour until firm, then transfer into zip-top freezer bags and store frozen for up to a month.) Brush the remaining egg mixture over the tops of each pastry piece. Sprinkle with pepper and bake on parchment lined baking sheet at 400° F until golden. Serve hot.

Special thanks to Janice Thomas and her panelists in making and sampling our contest submissions. If you are ever in the Door County, Wisconsin area, check out her calendar of fun, instructional, and of course, DELICIOUS classes at

Shiitake Butter

Shiitake Butter

1 lb. Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 T butter
1 small onion
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 T soy sauce
About 1.5 lbs. of salted butter, softened

1.) Tear up a pound of stemmed Shiitake. You’ll be cooking these down and pureeing, so large pieces are okay.

2.) With medium heat, melt 2 T butter in a medium skillet and add 1 small chopped onion. Sauté until soft.

3.) Add mushroom pieces, stir around a bit and cover. Every few minutes, check the pan and stir things around, keep the heat warm enough to cook the mushrooms but try to avoid browning the onions.

4.) Once the mushrooms start to cook down and you see a liquid at the bottom of the pan (about 5-10 minutes) add the salt and sugar. Reduce the heat and keep stirring things around every few minutes until the cloudy liquid at the bottom of the pan starts to become clear. Remove the lid and add soy sauce and cook a few minutes more, then shut off the heat.

COOL the mixture (duxelles) until it reaches room temperature. Stir things around in the pan as it sits to aid in even cooling. Once the mushrooms are only slightly warm to the touch, puree in a food processor until the mixture is a paste.
6.) HERE is the secret to making an excellent Shiitake butter: make sure everything, especially the ingredients and mixing bowl, is at room temperature for this final blending of mushroom puree and butter!

What is “room temperature” butter you may ask? If the Sami people of the far north have hundreds of words for snow, the pastry chef ought have the same amount of words for butter, but the best description might be “medium soft.” Ready a mixer with a whip attachment if you have it; otherwise regular beaters will do.

Measure out your puree and ready an equal amount of medium soft butter. The puree volume can vary depending on the raw mushrooms moisture content, but it should be around 3 cups.

Whip or beat the butter until fluffy, then stir in the puree. Finally, whip it until the butter and mushrooms are well blended. This is the secret to making a consistent, well-blended butter. If components are too warm, you’ll end up with soup; if they're too cool, you’ll end up with chunky butter.

This recipe makes about 3 lbs. of Shiitake Butter. Transfer to individual deli containers or jars for gifting, or wrap in freezer paper. This recipe can be doubled by using a standard 4 ½ qt. mixing bowl.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Nameko: 5 Reasons to Grow 
This Amazing Mushroom
(plus gill netting Whitefish and a Fish & Nameko Tart recipe)

by Mary Ellen Kozak

The Nameko mushroom is weirdly beautiful. Once you get comfortable with knowing that it is edible (and delectable), you'll take special care to inoculate a few logs with it every year for a regular harvest. Nameko has several other attributes which may encourage you to grow it if you haven't tried it already.

Emerging mushrooms are protected in 
a gelatinous sheath
1. It is eye catching. Nameko is a silky and tender mushroom that is very popular in Japan, especially in soups. As it pops up through cracks in the bark of the log, it is encased with a gelatinous covering that makes the amber colored mushroom glisten and sparkle. The gelatinous covering that adheres to the mushroom when harvested young helps thicken soup broth when simmered. The coating evaporates when sauteed in a fry pan.

2. Just a few logs will satisfy. Plug spawn makes inoculation easy and can be purchased in small quantities, perfect for planting just a few logs, which will produce just enough mushrooms for most miso soup lovers and adventurous cooks. Nameko logs are inoculated just like Shiitake. Inoculated Nameko logs like to lay flat directly on the ground, as they prefer high humidity. As a result, smaller-than-average diameter logs can be successfully incubated with less worry about them drying out, which is often the biggest concern for Shiitake growers using smaller diameter logs. Branches as thin as three inches in diameter can be used, and are often readily available from backyard tree prunings. Diameters any smaller, however, may lead to difficulty when drilling holes.

Early season Nameko fruiting on a
Black Cherry log laid under a Plum tree

3. Nameko grows on unusual wood, not best suited for Shiitake, so therefore is a welcome mushroom alternative. In fact, it is the only cultivated mushroom we have found so far that will produce on Jack Pine. Nameko grows well on Aspen, Box Elder, Cottonwood, Willow, Cherry, Buckeye, Ironwood, Sugar Maple and Sweet Gum. It also yields respectably on Alder, Ash, Basswood, Elm, Hackberry, and Mulberry. And there are likely more promising wood species yet untested.

4. Snow mushrooms? Nameko is considered a late fall fruiter, but has a wide harvest range from leaf fall to snow fall. Most mushroom mycelium slows as Thanksgiving approaches with the exception of some renegade cold weather Shiitake, Oyster and Blewit. Mushrooms will emerge at 40-60F but will continue to develop when days are both colder or warmer than that range. Occasionally Nameko will fruit in the spring. In any case, it's nice to to have one last basket of mushrooms just when you thought everything was done for the season.

Late season Nameko
 often fruits while the snow flies
5. It's easy to identify, once you know its characteristics. Perhaps one reason people avoid growing Nameko is that it falls into the "LBM" category: Little Brown Mushrooms. There are several fall fruiting LBM's that fall into this category, so you MUST (and this is true for all mushrooms) know what you are picking. We will be posting a blog, "Nameko and its Look-Alikes" in January 2017 to provide growers confidence in harvesting this mushroom. Just knowing more about look-alikes and the world of fungi at your feet will make your cultivation experience more exciting.

Nameko plus Whitefish 
Nameko harvest in the Great Lakes states tends to coincide with the abundance of all the foods we think of for fall harvest and the Thanksgiving holiday: cranberries, pumpkin, wild turkey. A late fall harvest that we don't often think about is Lake Whitefish. This fish is very popular with people in the Great Lakes region and restaurants specialize in Whitefish dishes including sauteed Whitefish livers and roe (Nameko pairs very well with fish, and if you'd like to see the tart recipe without the fish-catching specifics below, please scroll to the bottom). Whitefish spawns very late: they spend most of the year in the large lakes, and come into gravelly shallow waters late in the fall to spawn.

Typical BWCA landscape, with fishermen scouting channels
This season I tagged along with my husband Joe and our Minnesotan outdoorsmen friends to join the annual and time honored "Whitefish Camp" in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) of northern Minnesota. I spent time, while the nets were being set, looking for the late fall mushroom Galerina marginata and other look-alikes to the Nameko that shares the same fruiting time. I also took some pictures of the whitefishing tradition to share. 

Setting nets
The Boundary Waters Area Canoe Wilderness, located in the Superior National Forest, has deep lakes connected by short shallow rivers, perfect habitat for Lake Whitefish. Minnesotans gather at the mouths of these rivers for the annual gill netting ritual, where hundreds of fish can be netted overnight. Although fishing is highly regulated to protect the population, this fishery has such abundance it can handle dozens of nets with little fear of overfishing. Our friends are expert canoeists and must be so, as it is tricky business to navigate the fast water, secure the nets, and add the floats. First though, nets, floats, dogs, food, fish cleaning gear, tent, and stove all must be humped over several portages before setting camp.  

Portaging gear to the next lake
Interestingly, most of the fishermen (and it definitely WAS a multi-aged but male dominated activity)  I chatted with while they cleaned the buckets and coolers full of fish after harvest, said they hardly ate any Whitefish themselves but were netting for people "in town" who were not able to get out and net fish anymore themselves.

I was offered several methods for canning, pickling, and smoking Whitefish to "give away as gifts". Wow. 

Picking the fish from the net

After the fish were picked from the nets (best done with a crochet hook) the fish were transported back to camp to be cleaned. Our friends had portable wood boards that were fastened to trees where they could process dozens of fish within an hour. Filleted fish were then rinsed and packed into plastic bags for transportation. Fish skeletons and entrails, by the bucketful, were spread for the eagles, ravens, grey jays and other wildlife to make quick work of - my job.  :-)

Checking the nets 

While we did not eat any Whitefish at our Thanksgiving table, we were still slightly amazed at witnessing this incredible resource of local food. Certainly the difficulty of processing the fish in a remote location without modern sportsman conveniences had something to do with controlling greed for such an abundant resource, but it was the respect for which most of the fisherpeople treated the harvest that governed it more. The generous sharing of their abundance with others was perhaps the most remarkable thing to me. I realized that there are people of all walks of life that respect and enjoy and utilize our public lands in a variety of ways.

BWCA Whitefish
The thought of privatizing our public lands and all the implications that come with it must be carefully assessed and considered. Recent congressional action is looking at the transfer of our national forest lands to the states. These transfers, if they do happen, will not guarantee public access to these lands for recreational use and other activities. As a company, whose employees are outdoor enthusiasts and strongly believe in managing forests for long term sustainability, we support two watchdog organizations: The Outdoor Alliance, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. By supporting these organizations and letting our representatives know where we stand, we hope that our collective property will be available for future generations to use and enjoy as much as we do now.

Fish and Nameko Tart
This cheese flavored tart features a crust that can be used for any savory pie. It is delicious and really easy to make. The filling can also be adapted to any mushroom (Shiitake especially), although the mushrooms should be sliced and sauteed first rather than poaching as you would for Nameko. The beauty of Nameko in this dish is that these mushrooms are already quite tender and require just a brief poaching. The silky mushrooms pair well with the soft custard of this quiche-style savory. The crust and filling are described separately below until their final assembly.

1 oz grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (use 2 oz if  you love cheese)
½ c unbleached flour
1/8 tsp salt or healthy pinch
2T softened unsalted butter
2T solid vegetable shortening or lard
1TBSP water
1 beaten egg

Makes one 9-inch round tart

Method: Toss the flour, salt and fats with your fingers, rubbing and incorporating as you toss, keeping the mixture airy until crumbly. Add about 1 TBSP water and lift, rub and mix until smooth. Cover the dough and rest  in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the dough out 2 inches past the diameter of your tart pan, trim the edges and slide it with your rolling pin over the pan. Get the dough settled, patting and crimping until you’ve got a nice pastry layer. Prick the bottom all over with a fork and brush the entire thing with the beaten egg. Pop in the oven and bake until golden, enjoying the toasted cheese smell. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack while preparing the filling.

1/2 lb baked, boned and flaked Whitefish (or any firm, mild fish). For a smoky flavored pie, you may substitute up to a 1/4 lb of boned smoked fish.
4-8 oz rinsed and lightly patted dry Nameko. Trim stems to about 1 inch and compost the trimmings.
1/2  c milk and 1 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
Pinch of salt
1 c sour cream
1 TBSP rinsed capers
Pinch each of nutmeg and black pepper
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
Chopped fresh dill, optional

Method: Lower oven temp to 325F. Heat the milk and sugar until just below a simmer and add the mushrooms and bay leaf. Place a lid on the pan and poach for 2-4 minutes. Remove bay leaf and strain the milk from the mushrooms, discarding any bits or organic matter not mushroom. Reserve both milk and mushrooms in separate bowls.

Add the sour cream to the milk.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks, adding salt and pepper. Slowly add the milk and sour cream mixture, whisking all the while. Pour into the cooled crust.

Sprinkle on top the poached mushrooms, capers and optional dill over the unbaked custard.
Place the filled tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.