Friday, October 28, 2011

Frightfully Tricky Forest Fungi
Written by Mary Ellen
These Shiitakes might look scary, but they sure taste great!
Here is one of my darkest fears, my most grim dream: One day I’ll cook a sensational autumnal meal to celebrate the harvest season. It will be replete with forest fungi. All my closest friends and family will be there. You can guess where this is going …. maybe you’ve even had the same dream! Is it really possible that I could poison my loved ones with my favorite Cream of Shiitake Soup to witch :) a toadstool has found its way?
What, after all, is the likelihood that people who grow their own mushrooms will make a misidentification while picking and inadvertently consume it? For me, the likelihood is about as great as me carrying an AK-47 to my dinner party and spraying it about the room for dessert. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to use one let alone want to learn, so I believe fungal poisonings by my hand are highly unlikely.
Fungi can be a tricky lot. We know lots of folks who cook with mushrooms they harvest from their forest farm. Many new Shiitake mushroom growers pose the question “Would it be possible that the log I planted will also grow some poisonous ones?" The question is justified, after all- that’s one of the benefits of growing your own. If you’ve followed cultivation guidelines you can expect that what will grow there will be what you’ve planted. But like planting anything else outdoors, you can’t control everything that grows there. However, planting vigorous spawn in the proper substrate at the proper time should allow for solid establishment of whatever you’ve planted. Plus, once you positively identify your first cultivated mushrooms, you quickly become familiar with their every characteristic under every kind of weather condition, and you will be able to easily determine if there is a foreign fungus present. That said, ultimately the responsibility of correct identification is yours, and if you can’t identify it FOR SURE, it’s not edible!
The best way to learn more about mushrooms is to join a mushrooming group.  To find one near you visit the North American Mycological Association.
If you are an outdoor mushroom grower, for peace of mind and as a good business practice, nothing beats educating yourself about the Bad Guy fungi out there. There are a few groups of mushrooms you should just steer clear of because gastronomic rewards of eating them are just not worth the risk of getting it wrong. While most fungi are not deadly poisonous, certainly names of such fungi like “The Sickener,” “Death Angel,” “Poison Pie,” and “Deadly Galerina” offer some clues and worry as to what will happen to you if you do eat it.
Amanitas are one such group; it includes the “Death Angels,” a group of three beautiful white amanita species that, if consumed, will likely kill you. Fortunately none of these look at all like any of the mushrooms you are likely trying to grow and are not found growing on wood, so of course you’ll steer clear of them if you are harvesting mushrooms such as Shiitake or Oyster that grow on logs.
Ironically these Death Angels have sprouted up right next to a skull! Photo courtesy of Joe Christian.
Beware also of the collective group “LBM” or “Little Brown Mushrooms.” This group has some poisonous members, including one in particular “The Deadly Galerina,” which harbor the same toxin as do the Death Angels. This is a mushroom that provides the most fuel for my dark dream; it's brown, it grows on wood, it fruits in the fall; could it possibly be confused with Shiitake or Nameko? The deadly Galerina fruits on very old wood; I’ve only found it on fallen logs that are well on their way to barklessness and host many other wild fungi as well. This kind of log would be well past it’s usefulness as a shiitake log and I’ve never yet even found it on such a log. However, for a good look check this site or search Youtube with the words “deadly galerina” and you’ll get a good idea of what they look like!
This Deadly Galerina is scary every day of the year, not just on Halloween.
The last group to be wary of consists of members of Cortinarius. which could be potentially confused with Blewit. Some species of this group are purplish like the Blewit, but turn them over and you will see a cobwebby veil underneath the cap, or “Cortina”. The gills turn rust brown and the stalk often has bits of this Cortina on it. Once again, familiarity of the Blewit will give you the best insurance as to what is NOT a blewit. For more info go to the mushroom forager or mushroom-collecting.
If you are a video person, avoid all tricks and treat yourself to Taylor Lockwoods DVD “The Good, the Bad and the Deadly.” It’s greatly informative, presented very clearly, and is not just a one-time watch DVD. You’ll want it in your library. It also covers each of the groups mentioned above. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side of Mushrooms
Written by Laura

It's fall, and what better to do than to take a walk in the woods. I set out with my two daughters on a little family adventure. We live about 20 miles northwest of the FFP farm. Our primary goal was to find some edible mushrooms. I decided to search a near by woods where, earlier in the year, I had found many hedgehog mushrooms. We did find some fungi, but nothing I was willing to put on our dinner plates.

Turkey tail was our primary find, as usual. Although nonedible (its leathery texture would certainly cause a stomach ache) and nonpoisonous, this mushroom is highly medicinal. We also came across Amanita muscaria, a highly toxic, but beautiful mushroom. Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) on a log turned out to be the highlight of the day for the girls. What kid doesn't love smashing these little things? I'm not gong to lie, I even like doing it. The puffballs are edible, but not when they have turned brown and produced spores. You have to find these things when they are still pure white inside and out. The giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) would probably be more worth your time though. Beware, never mistake a young Amanita for a puffball!

 Amanita muscaria, should never be eaten.

After taking this picture all of these puffballs were squished.

Aside from mushrooms we saw a black squirrel and a tiny orange frog. I had also kicked up several white-tail deer, but the vibrant colors of the fall leaves were by far the greatest part of my day, visually. Exhausted, the girls found a place to sit and take a break. Our walk took place during the early evening, and the sun was in just the right place for picture time.

What a great fall background!

After the walk I decided to search a little closer to home. Most of the edible mushrooms I have been finding this year are right in my back yard. Early in the summer I had found a huge patch of Chicken of  the Woods on an ash stump. I was lucky enough to get even more from that same location this fall. Morels (not in the fall), Shaggy Manes, Oysters, Reishi (used for tea), and Hericium all grow very close to my house. These are all wild varieties too. The only mushrooms I have growing at home that come from FFP spawn are Wine Caps.

This flush of Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, was found in the early summer.

Hericium coralloides growing on an old maple log in the woods next to my house.

The same log, Hericium higher up from the ground was pink in color (not uncommon).

Reishi, Ganoderma tsugae, can be seen from my living room window growing on hemlock stumps and downed logs.

My girls have learned to eat mushrooms in just about anything without complaint. Our dog Charlee has even learned to love them, but she does prefer them cooked in butter, never raw. More importantly, the girls have learned a whole lot on mushroom identification. In searching for mushrooms they are learning about their surroundings and everything that nature has to offer them. Unfortunately, they have also learned to complain: that my walks are way too long and difficult. I generally follow no path making them crawl under and jump over various logs. It's good for them, and I'm sure that someday they will thank me for our walks together.

Shaggy Manes are no stranger to my yard this time of year.

A pile of maple and beech logs which were supposed to be cut for fire wood have become one of my favorite mushroom hunting grounds. Oysters primarily grow here.

Edible wild mushrooms are not uncommon at the FFP farm either. Sure, we could eat only the ones we produce here at the farm, but that takes the thrill out of hunting for them. Comparing flavors, size, textures etc... is fun for us. This time of year two favorites to find are Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda).

Mary Ellen holding a wild Maitake.
Caution should be taken when trying to identify the Wood Blewit.
Please know that although I have learned some things about mushroom identification, I am by no means an expert. I am lucky enough to have Joe and Mary Ellen around to help me out whenever I'm in doubt. Mushrooms are fascinating, but then again so are lions. Be realistic when it comes to mushroom hunting. Stay within bounds and never cross the fence.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Maitake: Mighty Mushroom of the Fall 
Written by Rachel

Along with the change in colors and crisp, cool wind, fall in Wisconsin also brings a plethora of fresh vegetables and a new flush of wild and cultivated maitake (Hen of the Woods). This particular mushroom has a leafy, almost coral like or extraterrestrial appearance and a fresh peppery scent (no, its not straight from a Lewis Carroll tale). The outlandish appearance, however, gives no indication to this fungus’s delicious flavor. When we sell these at the farmers’ market, the reaction is always the same: “What in the world is that?” or, my personal favorite, “Can you eat it?” The maitake is not only delicious and extremely edible, it also possesses many medicinal qualities that truly make it a “super food.” In fact, its extract is said to boost immunity and slow or reverse tumor growth and aid in the control of diabetes.

Maitake growing on a sawdust block in our fruiting room.
Here at FFP, we typically grow maitake from ready-to-fruit blocks made of hardwood sawdust. Each block yields one large cluster, which weighs about a pound. This may not seem like many mushrooms, but after the cluster is removed and pulled apart, the individual “leaves” create a fulfilling bounty. Once the block is done fruiting, it can be buried in wood chips outdoors for a subsequent fruiting the following year.

Maitake growing in the wild near the farm.

Besides growing maitakes on blocks, we also fruit them outdoors in crates. This method is fairly simple, but requires a fair bit of patience compared to the ready-to-fruit block. First, a log is cut into an 8x8 inch chunk, placed in a polypropylene bag and sterilized. This unit is then inoculated with spawn and left to incubate for three months. At this point, the log is removed and buried in a newspaper-lined crate, covered with soil and topped with leaves. If the moisture level is kept at a consistent level (just moist to the touch, not sopping wet) the mushrooms should appear within 6 months to a year.

This year, our maitake production has increased exponentially because of the ideal fall growing conditions. Usually, we anxiously await perfect fruiting weather, but we’ve had a fantastic season and can finally enjoy these delicious mushrooms.

My personal favorite ways to cook maitake are to roast or sauté them. Earthy fall flavors, such as squash, peppers, cabbage and pumpkin, complement the mushroom’s wonderfully nutty taste. Mix it with wild rice, cranberries, and asparagus for a new twist on stuffed squash, or sauté it with garlic and onions to enjoy it on a light pasta dish. It also makes a tasty and healthy topping for pizza. This week, however, I went against the grain and included maitake in a spicy dish with surprisingly pleasing results. This new concoction can be found in the “recipes” section. Although extremely versatile, maitakes have a short shelf life, staying fresh in the refrigerator for only about a week, so be sure you’re ready for them when they finally appear! However, they can be sautéed and frozen in airtight bags for future use.

Roasted maitake and peppers on polenta. Yum Yum!
I hope that the autumn months bring as much enjoyment to our readers as they do to us here at FFP. After all, what could be better than sweatshirt weather, outstanding fall colors, and some homegrown ‘shrooms?