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.