Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Fruits (or fungi) of Labor

In the summer season of Northern Wisconsin, growing shiitake takes a lot of extra work. The unusually hot weather we’ve been experiencing as of late doesn’t help matters. Not only must we keep tabs on temperature and humidity, the swamp cooler runs most of the day and the mister runs all night. Due to the humidity level in the fruiting room, mosquitoes run rampant and picking turns into a battle of epic proportions. The mosquito is the Wisconsin state bird, after all.

Those of you unfamiliar with the mushrooming process may be wondering what goes on in the fruiting room here at FFP. Not only do mushrooms grow, but it is also a prime area for used coffee cup storage. We just can’t seem to keep track of our multiple refills!

The coffee mug, Needus refillus, an elusive species here at FFP.

The basic fruiting process begins by opening appropriately aged ready-to-fruit shiitake blocks (typically, an older block = higher yield). Seven to ten days later, the first flush can be harvested and the blocks are significantly lighter; they are then loaded into a livestock tank along with a little bleach and soaked in cold water for 6-8 hours. This cold water “shocks” the blocks and stimulates a second fruiting, which is ready in about 5-7 days.

These shiitake blocks have just been drained after a good soak.

Whew! After all that, the mushrooms are graded (1’s and 2’s, not A’s and B’s) and sold to our bulk consumers. We even get to take home the leftovers... given that there are some... and, in my case, experiment. Seeing as chanterelle season is upon us, the newest recipe uses these tasty wild-growing mushrooms. Never having tried chanterelles previously, I had no idea what I would do with these beautiful fungi. After one failed attempt, I stumbled upon a recipe for Mushroom Bread Pudding and altered it to incorporate the chanterelles and shiitakes sitting in my refrigerator. If you’re in the cooking mood and feeling adventurous, take a look! (It's under the Recipes tab.)

The chanterelle, although not grown at FFP, is delicious on its own or in combination with the shiitake. Try it in Rachel's Mushroom Bread Pudding. 

On another note, Mary Ellen, Joe, Nik, and Phoebe will be traversing beautiful mountains for the next 2 weeks, leaving Laura, Jasen, Natalie, and I to our own devices (what happens at FFP stays at FFP). It’s only Tuesday, and this is already our second food day (Laura was right! 75% of our posts will be about food. On today’s menu... fresh Kringles). In all seriousness, work goes on as usual. There are orders to pack, mushrooms to pick, and gardens to water. So, given that, I leave you today hopefully with a better understanding of the fruiting process, the work it incorporates, and a hunger for all things fungi. Stay cool, and keep mushrooming!


Joe, Mary Ellen, and the kids having a wonderful time on vacation.

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