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.