Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dried and Delicious
Written by Mary Ellen
Exquisitely prepared dried Shiitake in Japan.
Not everyone has an indoor grow room to produce plump, fresh shiitake mushrooms for the holidays (although you can come close with our TableTop Farms). If you grew your own on logs last summer and dehydrated the surplus, don’t forget that Shiitake (and other dried mushrooms) make great gifts, especially if you can provide the recipient with some easy cooking ideas!
First, not every delicious fresh mushroom makes an equally delicious dried mushroom, which is something to consider before you actually go through the work of drying them.  The essence of each species of mushroom in its dried form is often very different from the fresh. The first time I ate a dried Shiitake I recalled the taste of the pinch of pipe tobacco I snuck from my dad's Prince Albert canister as a kid. I couldn’t get past the different flavor; nothing like the garlicky, buttery flavor of fresh shiitake! However, several years ago Joe and I visited Japan during the height of fresh shiitake season and we were astounded to find ourselves eating various exquisite preparations of DRIED shiitake… and loving it!
Almost all mushrooms can be dried, but some are coveted in the dried form. Here is a respectable list:
Shiitake (Japanese forest mushroom, Chinese black mushroom, etc)
King Bolete (cepes, porcini)
Netted Stinkhorn
Black Trumpet
If you have a mushroom to add to this list, please weigh in!
Give a gift of dried mushrooms this holiday season.
Here are some guidelines to follow if you are giving dried mushrooms as a gift:  

1.      Make sure the mushrooms are brittle dry. Sometimes they soften if not stored in an airtight container and are prone to molding. A plastic freezer bag or canning jar with a properly tightened canning lid will do the trick. If they are soft when you divvy them up for gifts, put them back in the dehydrator for an hour before re-packing.

2.      The “general directions for use” label might read: These mushrooms, grown with great labor of love, can be stored for months at room temperature as long as the storage container remains tightly closed.  For really long term storage, store in your freezer. To use: pour boiling water over the mushrooms in a bowl and let soak for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and save as a broth.  Chop and sauté the mushrooms themselves (discarding the stem) and use as you would fresh mushrooms. 

Here are two very different recipes using dried shiitake (or the dried mushroom of your choice)
Simple Shiitake Sauce
This simple sauce might just knock your Christmas stockings right off!
This highly flavored sauce takes advantage of both the reconstituted shiitake and the resulting flavorful soaking liquid. Use it to sauce meats, fish, tofu or assertive vegetables such as cabbage or bok choy. Of course it’s also delicious on pasta.
1 c dried shiitake
1 c boiling water
¼ c chopped onion
1 clove garlic
½ tsp each sugar, soy sauce, salt
1 T flour
¼ c grated asiago or parmesan, optional
Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, soak for 20-30 min.  Meanwhile, sauté aromatics in 1 T butter. Add seasonings. Drain and strain the soak water from the mushrooms, saving the liquid. Slice the mushrooms, discarding the stem.  Add to the sauté pan and sprinkle with the flour, sautéing the whole bit for a few minutes. Slowly add the cream and soak water, cooking until the sauce reaches the consistency you like. Add cheese if desired.
Easy Spring Rolls with Shiitake
Refreshing spring rolls with dried Shiitake.
The body and soul often need a break from rich holiday food and festivities. These rolls are bright, crunchy, clean and can be so appreciated. If you’ve never made a spring roll do not hesitate to try this. The technique is useful and can be adapted to any fresh filling.
10-15 dried shiitake
10 or more round dried rice paper sheets
2 oz dried cellophane noodles
½ lb fresh bean sprouts
1 small cucumber, cut into match sticks
1 carrot, grated
4 T chopped peanuts
½ c chopped cilantro
Pour boiling water over the shiitake in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes or more. Drain away the liquid (keeping for another use), squeeze the shiitake and blot with toweling to absorb the extra moisture. Thinly slice the shiitake, discarding the stem.
Pour boiling water over the cellophane noodles and let sit for 10 min. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Assemble all the vegetables, noodles and peanuts; have all the little bowls set in a line for easy filling.
Fill a cake pan with warm water and dip the rice sheets, one at a time, into the water  (make sure they are covered with water) to soften; 30-90 seconds. Lift out with tongs and set out flat on a dish towel.  Soften additional sheets as you work filling them.
Filling the sheets:
In the center of the softened rice sheet, layer the fillings (about 1/2 - 3/4 cup total) in a cigar shape in the center of the paper. Roll up the bottom, tuck in the sides and continue to roll to make a translucent, plump eggroll shape.  Cut in half and provide a dipping sauce.
Pineapple Dipping Sauce:
1 T rice wine vinegar
Juice from 1 lemon
Dab of chili oil or chili paste, or a red chili deseeded and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz crushed pineapple, canned with juice
Mix it all together and divide into beautiful little bowls or saucers for dipping.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Inside Scoop: Field & Forest Products has a Baby
Written by Laura

Who here would have ever thought that bags of mushroom spawn would someday serve as bumper pads!
These days there are not too many businesses that will let you bring a newborn baby to work, especially in the way of agriculture. I’m here to tell you that babies can grow mushrooms too.
When I started this job nearly two years ago I had only two daughters ages 8 and 6. During my interview Mary Ellen had asked me if I had any concerns. I decided it best to tell her and Joe that I was a mom, and as most parents know, sometimes children need their moms during business hours. Joe and Mary Ellen, being involved parents themselves, knew where I was coming from, and told me there was flexibility with this job. I had no idea that almost two year later, flexibility would mean sitting side by side with my third daughter (only a month old) at my desk.
Sadie's favorite seat is right next to mom.
Some of you may have had the chance to talk with me here at F&FP…I answer phones, do design work on our website, enter orders, and many other clerical activities. However, I also make the thimble spawn, pack orders, pasteurize and inoculate straw, and many other not so clerical duties. I have no official job title, but I’m ok with that because it would probably have too many words in it anyway. I simply refer to myself as a cultivator. As a cultivator/mother I have to find ways to entertain a now three month old little girl on the mushroom farm. Her extremely laid back personality makes the challenges of working with her quite easy.
Luckily she is young, and naps often. Purchasing a mini swing to leave at the farm was a wise decision on my part. She spends a good 80% of her time in it. Babies are easily amused, and because of this she is often comforted by the steady hum of air coming from the ventilation fan in our incubation room. This room is also where orders are packed, and has a comfortable padded floor. She often just lays there stretched out enjoying the good life. The background noises here have conditioned my child to sleep through anything!  As I go through my daily routines I narrate to her the many workings of the farm. She is gaining the required knowledge to one day become a successful mushroom farmer.
Fast asleep on the packing room floor.
There are a total of seven of us here including Joe and Mary Ellen, baby Sadie makes eight. I never have to worry that no one will be there for her when I am busy. She is loved and appreciated here. I am positive that her treatment directly reflects the attitudes of both Joe and Mary Ellen. The environment they have created for the employees is second to none. We are privilaged because Field & Forest Products remains a small close-knit company. Hopefully all of this produces results that our customers feel as well. Working hard and showing respect, without taking advantage of all we are offered, allows for special benefits like bringing a baby to work.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Begging Rachel for Her Poor Man’s Pudding
Written by Mary Ellen
Shiitake Bread Pudding

Last year during fall shiitake harvest time, Rachel here at F&FP, experimented with mushroom bread puddings. There is nothing quite like great produce to inspire good cooks, and the fall shiitake have been nothing short of exceptional.

Recently, we remembered that day when she brought in last years creation, gorgeous and creamy, studded with mushrooms on a teal colored plate for Food Friday. We thought we’d make up a pan. Alas, the recipe was deleted from our blog, and like most good cooks she couldn’t remember the details of making it. She’s re-created the recipe for us and we thought we’d post it in case you missed it the first time around. Thank you Rachel!

Cold Weather Shiitake are fruiting here at F&FP, and man are they delicious. Miss Happiness is no exception.

A Note on “Bread Pudding”

Bread pudding was often called “Poor Man’s Pudding” for the obvious reason that it was made from stale bread. Nowadays a country cook still has thrift in mind, but also an eye toward delectability. Bread puddings are typically thought of as dessert, and take well to finely textured white breads, brioches and even bread crumbs. Savory bread puddings made with these are refined in character, but also can be glorious when made with sourdoughs, French breads and ryes…and Shiitake, as in this bread pudding!  

For the best bread puddings, whatever the bread, use one or two day old bread, thereby being slightly dry to soak up the liquids, but not so aged to taste stale.

Snow Cap: A beautifully ornamented Cold Weather.
Chocolov: A Cold Weather full of goodness. 

Shiitake Bread Pudding

6-7 C day old French bread or marble rye, cubed
About 1 lb. Shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small leek
3-4 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage
1 tsp basil
Parsley and chives
5 eggs
2 C heavy whipping cream
1 C milk
¼ - ½ C parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and leeks, sautéing until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and herbs, cook until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream milk, and parmesan. Toss in the bread cubes and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gently mix in the mushrooms and pour into a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour.


If the bread pudding is a little dry (a lot depends on the density and moisture of the bread) you can serve it up with a side of Whipped Cream Horseradish Sauce. Come to think of it, whip up a side anyway, you won't regret it.

Whipped Cream Horseradish Sauce

1 c whipping cream
1 T prepared, jarred horseradish
1/4 tsp pepper

Sugar to taste

Whip up the cream to soft peaks and whip in the horseradish and pepper.  Eat immediately :)

Bellwether: F&FP's newest Cold Weather Strain.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Falling for Autumn Shiitake
Written by Mary Ellen
Flashback: Joe and Phoebe (and Merlin) enjoying the fall Shiitake harvest.
Joe tells us that the only time he was ever taken out of school was when the podpinki (buttons/stumpers/honey mushroom/Armellaria
mellea) were in season. He, his dad and grandfather would go cut banana boxes full of podpinki and jam them into the back of the family station wagon.  They’d arrive home as if fresh off a bank heist! His mom would be faced with hours of cleaning and canning mushrooms (isn’t it much more fun to be the forager than the kitchen drudge?).  This might be the reason that spring is her favorite time of year.
Here is an Armellaria species, just one of at least a dozen very similar species grouped together and labeled by mushroom hunters as "Honey Mushrooms," or as in Joe's example above, "podpinki." Do you have any tales about picking Armellaria? If so let us know in the comments section below.

Armellaria infrequently fruit on shiitake logs but ...even so, you should know what they are in case they make a showing! Identifiers: often clustered, growing in fall on wood, buff/brownish/yellow, often sticky caps with a bristling of short "hairs" on the top of the cap. Gills are attached, cream colored, and covered with a fibrous or webby "skirt" which becomes the ring on the stem as the mushroom grows. Spore print white.

There is no need to go foraging beyond your backyard if you are growing shiitake mushrooms. Yes, this is IT…Shiitake time! Shiitake have two general fruiting times when there is almost nothing you can do to stop the fruiting impulse…Fall, and (to a lesser degree), Spring. Planting a mix of different strains will help stretch out the season, but the combination of temperature change, rainfall and humidity after a long hot summer can mean grocery sacks full of mushrooms. 
Autumn: Flying geese, falling leaves, apple cider, wood fires...mushrooms!
 On our farm, we finished up a week or so ago with a nice natural flush of mushrooms from logs planted with Wide Range strains. Now the logs planted with Warm Weather strains, especially WW70, (a vigorous fall fruiter), are bumpy with mushrooms. We had our first fall frost two nights ago so we await with pleasure the prospect of harvesting the gorgeous Cold Weather shiitake. 

WW70 is a star early fall fruiter.

Good shiitake fruiting goes hand and hand with rain, so we are often faced with black brown, water logged caps. Mushrooms like this have a much shorter shelf life than properly harvested shiitake, really no more than a week. Plus, their dark shiny appearance scares customers if the mushrooms are taken to market. It is best to avoid this problem by watching for the earliest stages of fruiting, and covering the pinning (baby mushrooms) logs with fruiting blanket, frost blanket or clear plastic until the mushrooms are ready to harvest. Even if you can cover the wet but still developing mushrooms a few days before the cap starts to pull away from the stipe (stem), they should develop beautifully for a high quality product at picking time.  

Sometimes you just can’t get the logs covered in time though. Water saturated mushrooms are just fine to eat unless they have developed a dark brown cast to the gills (meaning rot). Saturated mushrooms can be dried, but be careful not to overload drying trays. Monitor heat and air flow as these easily get past their prime before they fully dry. Our favorite way to preserve is to slice and sauté until the extra water releases and evaporates. Season the slices to taste and freeze pints or puree and pack into ice cube trays for later when the fine memories of the fall harvest are equal to the taste of fresh-frozen shiitake. 

Pine squirrels are just as likely to snack on football Sundays as are local cheeseheads. Covering fruiting logs helps reduce obvious bite marks in prime specimines.
Just now, after years of hearing the tales of podpinik hunting, Joe tells me that the underlying reason for going mushroom hunting was the side trip to the White River in Waushara County, WI…for fishing. Figures!

Go to our recipes page to try Rachel's wonderful Shiitake and Cheese Tart.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tickled Pink: Grow Oyster Mushrooms! 
A Feast for the Eye and Appetite 
Written by Mary Ellen

The Rose Oyster growing from a sleeve filled with pasteurized straw.

Pink Oyster mushrooms, (or the Rose Oyster, as we like to call them) are another warm weather loving Oyster mushroom (like the Golden Oyster see previous blog). We like to grow them on soaked straw as an indoor project, and for the more experienced cultivators…using pasteurized straw. Want to try something simple and fun? You can even grow these beauties on rolls of toilet paper! This mushroom really does like it warm, so lots of people (including us) are working with it planted on beds of straw/woodchips in the greenhouse...we’ll keep you posted of our progress! Should this work well, we’ll be renaming it something like “Pink Hotty 2012” should any of us forget this 3 month hot spell.

The beautiful color and rose-like appearance help give this oyster its name.

It's a very fast mushroom to produce, harvests occur as early as 12 days after inoculation. Rose Oyster cultures are sensitive to refrigeration, so if they are grown outdoors they will not like temperatures below 50F and certainly not below freezing. Therefore, we have never attempted growing them on logs because our logs stay outside for the winters. We live in the Great Lakes region where we get plenty of days below freezing. For those of you living in the South, we’ve been told the Rose Oyster can be grown on Palm tree sections in the totem method.

If you are growing Rose Oysters yourself, you’ll notice a range of hues as the mushrooms develop; this depending on the surrounding environmental conditions at the time of fruiting. They can range from a barely pink color to a deep rose or salmon red. You’ll also notice the mushrooms are very sturdy; resilient to breaking from bouncing around in a box while transporting them to market. To be truthful, the more finicky among you may translate this characteristic as…well…tough, but this is a great advantage when used as a skewered grilling mushroom in kabobs or in the recipe that follows.

Joe applies a brandy glaze over this months featured recipe.

Glazed Grilled Shrimp, Apricots and Rose Oyster Tacos

In this recipe the Rose Oysters will fade to pale pink with crispy browned edges. It is served up with shrimp, balanced with a glazed fruit and stuffed into a grilled corn tortilla accompanied by sour cream, cilantro and possibly your favorite fresh garden salsa. Amazing!

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/8-1/4 cup apple jack brandy or dark rum, your choice
3 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water

6-8 fresh apricots, cut into quarters or eighths, or substitute with another firm fleshed fruit
32 medium shrimp, we like uncooked frozen shrimp, thawed, tail off
8 ounces of Rose Oyster mushrooms
1-2 package(s) of corn tortillas
Sour cream

•Make glaze: In a small saucepan, combine the lime juice, brandy or rum, sugar and grated ginger and heat until boiling. Stir, simmer another minute or so until the glaze is slightly thick. In a separate bowl, combine the cornstarch with the cold water stir into glaze mixture. Cook, stirring, until thickened and off the heat. Cool.

•Thread thawed shrimp onto skewers that have been presoaked 30 min in water. Season on both sides with salt. Thread fruit slivers onto separate skewers. Do the same with Rose oysters, threading through the stems. Brush shrimp, mushrooms and apricots on both sides with glaze.

•Prepare grill and oil grates. Place loaded skewers on grill; cook, turning once. Cook shrimp until evidence of blackening in spots and shrimp are opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes. Oyster mushrooms should be crispy to slightly blackened of edges.

•Sear the corn tortillas on grill until heated through.

•Pile the cooked shrimp, mushrooms and fruit skewers onto a big platter next to a basket of the grilled tortillas. People can load their own and sauce with sour cream, salsa, or whatever else you have in your garden. Just the three main ingredients will provide plenty or flavor and texture for a jubilant August picnic supper!

The finished product! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

This Summer….Go For the Gold
Written by Mary Ellen

A cluster of Goldens waiting for harvest.
Yes...it’s on all our minds... not what happens in London this summer at the Olympics, but which mushroom will we be harvesting in July?

The Golden Oyster is the obvious choice. Sure, we’ll be filling our baskets with shiitake that have been force fruited (soaking the logs 12-24 hrs in cold water), some Winecaps brought in with a cold summer thunderstorm, and maybe some wild foraged Chanterelles, but in the world of Oysters grown on wood logs, the Golden is the Queen of Summer, fruiting repeatedly when the temps hover in the 80’s.

One of many harvests from a Golden Oyster Totem.

Golden Oysters are different than the rest of the Oyster mushroom crowd; their texture is crisp, the smell is sharp, the flavor clean. For that rich, deep forest mushroom flavor, go for the more complex fall fruiters such as Polar White and Blue Dolphin, or the unusual Rose (or Pink) oyster (reserved for a later blog post), but plan on the sunny Golden Oyster for the summer. If you don’t want to eat it, make it into a vibrant garnish, or even more dramatic would be a centerpiece featuring a single Golden Oyster clump. Either way, it’s a winner.

Polar White Oyster mushroom.
Blue Dolphin Oyster mushroom.
Rose or Pink Oyster mushroom.

Golden Oyster cooking and handling notes:
Golden Oysters are very delicate so they must be handled carefully. Larger caps (4 inches across or more) may be more richly flavored, but the stems slightly bitter (and mostly unusably tough, anyway), so use the caps only on these specimens. Cleaning: These usually do not require cleaning, but some outdoor grown oysters are harvested at soil level so they may be slightly gritty. To clean, apply a fine, hard spray of water directly and quickly to the gills and cap, minimal moisture! Blot quickly with paper towel.

The vibrant golden color dims when cooked, but this can be minimized by adding them during the last stages of cooking. Most chefs now tear the mushroom rather than slice, and it is certainly faster.

Serving suggestions: These delicate mushrooms are best lightly sauteed and added to mild dishes such as noodles or fish with a light cream sauce. Serve your Golden Oyster creation with a Shiraz or a Pinot Noir (Natalie recommends Bogle Pinot Noir), or for brew loving Wisconsinites, Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. Then… for this season only, bring your plates to the telly and enjoy the London Olympics!

Golden Oyster in the foreground and Maitake in the back.

A Golden salad for the season.
Summer Salad of Golden Oysters, Garden Greens and…

While Oyster mushrooms can be eaten raw as one might do with a button mushroom in a salad, the flavor is more complex if they are cooked first. This salad is a mix of greens dressed lightly with your favorite vinaigrette, then topped with roasted or sautéed oyster mushrooms and whatever else you have that provides a range of textures and accent flavors. Use the fresh oysters as visual garnish.

Step 1: Golden Oysters are fragile and the best ones have small caps; so if you are harvesting your own, choose caps the size of half dollars or smaller. Larger caps must be torn into pieces. Either sauté until crisp around the edges in butter or gently toss the whole caps with oil (about 1-2 Tablespoons of oil per pound of mushrooms), spread out on a baking sheet, and roast at 350 degrees (F) for about 20 minutes or until edges are browned and crispy.

Step 2: Prepare a mix of fresh salad greens and toss with your favorite vinaigrette.

Step 3: Set aside assorted textural additions; a combination of several of the following: dried or fresh cherries, celery, pea pods, sliced red pepper, cherry tomatoes, tiny cubes or crumbles of cheese, crisp pear slices and walnuts for later in the summer. Don’t ignore salty crunchy things such as roasted nuts or possibly chow mein noodles.

Step 4. Spread out the salad greens onto a big serving platter, liberally sprinkle the mushrooms over the greens and have fun adding the rest. Don’t forget to garnish with fresh Golden Oysters!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cold Weather Shiitake and 
the Magic Tablecloth
Written by Mary Ellen

I love the tale of the Magic Tablecloth. It’s Russian. A culture renowned for its love of mushrooms and picnics in the woods. This tablecloth can produce a feast at the utter of a command.

Well, you too may have the concept of such a cloth if you have cold weather strain shiitake mushrooms in your woods. These mushrooms keep on the logs for a long period of time; over a month, magically ready at the warming of the pan. Your woodland garden becomes a grocery store in the spring, each mushroom ebbing and swelling in size with passing spring thunder storms, intermittent dry winds and snow showers.

This cold weather strain “Chocolov” could easily be mistaken for a chocolate truffle!

Cold weather shiitake are dense and meaty; well known, for such qualities by vegetarians.

Spring shiitake, as a commercial crop, are hard to manage here in the upper Midwest. This is not so in the South where they can fruit on and off through the winter months. Parts of the country that maintain long stretches of temperatures where daytime highs range from the 30’s to the 50’s can achieve abundant harvests by misting pinning logs. But we are windy and cold… wait, hot….wait! Cold weather shiitake, trying to break loose from chilly, stalwart bark, starts and stops and starts to grow. It’s amazing to me that we saw our first full-sized spring shiitake on March 7th. I just picked those very same mushrooms last night for dinner, April 18th. 

On the log since early March, we’ll be enjoying this cold weather “Bellwether” this May Day if the weather stays cool!

It’s also difficult to keep the mushrooms from drying out in the spring. You can wet a fruiting blanket and cover the pinning logs, but keeping the blanket wet is difficult with stiff spring winds. You can tarp the wet blanket with plastic... perhaps too much work to manage unless you have all your cold weather strains consolidated. Otherwise, mushrooms can dry right on the log and can be weird, contorted and vericolored. It can be difficult to tell the stage of these mushrooms by simply looking at their caps... check the gills to see if they are white, not yellowing or brown, which indicates they’re not past their prime.   
Mushrooms with gold colored gills and leathery caps may not recover from wind and heat, and may be best off on the dryer tray. (The bite marks on the smaller mushroom above are probably from a white-footed mouse, who doesn't mind a mushroom a little past its prime!)
Much like the magic tablecloth, the shiitake possess their own secret charms. Give them a rainstorm and a little heat, and the hard dry lumps transform into gorgeous, thick caps with a mosaic of brown colors and geometric shapes. Given a hot/cold spring like we’ve had, we’ll be harvesting cold weather shiitake well into May. Just in time for picnics in the woods as we look for Morels!

These lumpy mushrooms, given enough moisture, will develop into gorgeous specimens.
Quick stir fry with frozen filet beans from last year's garden, and a finish of oyster sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds, makes an utterly satisfying dish.

“And somehow or other it had covered itself with dishes and plates and wooden spoons with pictures on them, and bowls of soup and mushrooms and kasha, and meat and cakes and fish and ducks, and everything else you could think of, ready for the best dinner in the world.”  - Ransome, Arthur. Old Peter's Russian Tales. London and Edinburgh: T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1916.

Image above - Mikhail Sukharev. Magic Tablecloth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shiitake and Red Pepper Pesto

Add these delicious Shiitake mushrooms to pesto for a twist.

2 red bell peppers, halved
About 10 med-large shiitake caps
½ C fresh basil
3 Tbsp pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
¼ C extra virgin olive oil
½ C Parmesan cheese

Rub the mushrooms and peppers with canola oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 min. at 375(F) or until soft and slightly charred. Immediately transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 10 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, pulse garlic, basil, mushrooms, and peppers until roughly chopped. Add EVOO slowly. Add cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

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 fashion? When 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 right. If 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.