Friday, May 26, 2017

Normal Looking Wine Cap Defined, Plus a Recipe for Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

by Mary Ellen Kozak

In the spring and late fall, Wine Cap mushrooms can look different than expected. Just like spring Shiitake, (Weird and Crazed Shiitake: Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect) spring grown Wine Caps can be freakish enough that people send us of photos of what they hope to be Wine Caps... but are just not quite sure.

Exposure to swings in temperature and humidity during early
mushroom development creates interesting looking Wine Caps

More than any other time of the year, the spring season gives us the most unusual looking Wine Caps. Why it happens: Most of this variability in appearance is caused by spring's wild swings in temperature, low humidity and vigorous exposure to winds (and the fact that there's limited vegetation available to shield developing mushrooms). Later in the summer, cooling evenings bring high humidity and also a pretty dramatic reduction in wind speed, which affect humidity from the knee down - creating ideal conditions for cap development.

Wine Cap - with cap color as we'd expect it to be

When you know you've inoculated Wine Cap into wood chips or straw but are questioning the identity of the emerging mushrooms in your bed, check for other identifiable structures. The cap is usually the most variable. To better identify mushrooms that do not look as you'd expect, make sure to lift up the entire mushroom, including the stem attachment to the soil, by digging deep into the wood chips, straw or soil.

Dig into the wood chips to lift up the mushroom, stem and all, for proper identification

If you are new to Wine Cap cultivation in ALL its seasons, you may find the chart below to be helpful in confirming your harvest. If you ever have any questions about Wine Cap identification, please call us, or better yet, email us a photo, and we'll be glad to help you.

One of my favorite ways to prepare Wine Caps involves harvesting the buttons early (this is especially important if you are growing them in straw beds, as they tend to quickly attract mushroom flies). These little jewels can be sliced in half or quartered and lightly braised in a savory broth with fresh asparagus spears. Both the Wine Caps and asparagus are plate-ready, crunchy fresh and perfect for a tiny desk lunch. If you'd like, you may add other seasonings such as shallot, chili or cumin seeds for a stronger flavor to amplify the delicate flavors of the mushrooms and asparagus.

Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

6-8 (or more) small spears of asparagus
1 cup of Wine Cap buttons, sliced in half or quartered
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 c chicken or vegetable broth, wine or oil

Trim the straw (or wood chips) off the mushrooms and rinse them

Half or quarter the Wine Caps and trim the asparagus

Add 1 tsp of oil to a heated saute pan. Add the mushrooms and let them get caramel brown, especially on the cut edges. Add the asparagus, 1/2 c broth and put the lid on, steaming the asparagus and mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Plate and enjoy. Serves 1-2.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Is Grain Spawn or Sawdust Spawn Better for Oyster Mushroom Production on Straw?
by Laura Kahles

From left to right: Italian, Golden and Pink Oyster mushroom growing on pasteurized straw.

I have been growing oyster mushrooms on straw for just over five years now. The opportunity to hand this task off onto other F&FP members has come up, but I just can't give it up. Why not, you might ask. My best guess...there is still so much to learn about this fascinating process. After five years, I still have unanswered questions, and more research to complete.

For anyone who is not familiar with the process, I will briefly explain. Chopped straw is pasteurized (cooked) in hot water to reduce the amount of contaminates it may contain (ie. molds, bacteria). After the straw drains and cools it is inoculated (planted) using oyster mushroom spawn (seed). After only a few short weeks beautiful oyster mushroom emerge, and can continue doing so for 2-3 months.

Here at F&FP our most popular type of spawn is called grain spawn. I use it when I can, but there are times when grain spawn becomes scarce here. The scarcity can happen for many different reasons including selling out, late grain delivery from our supplier, or equipment failures. When grain is in short supply I turn to the next best thing...sawdust spawn!

Which is better? I don't yet have a definitive answer to this question. As a professional I can see the good in both varieties. I can share with you what I do know at this point.

Grain spawn is easier to break up, and is easier to pour. A gentle massage of the bag will get the job done. If you have some pent up frustration I suggest you choose sawdust spawn. The oyster mycelium does a fine job of turning tiny sawdust particles into one solid brick that is easiest to break up with a firm fist. Do, however, be careful not to break the spawn bag.

Grain spawn breaks up easily, and adds extra nutrients.
Sawdust spawn has the advantage when it comes to spawn run time (time until full colonization). Grain particles are larger, and although they cover a larger surface area individually, there are not as many inoculation points as there are when sawdust is sprinkled throughout the straw. On average I have had mushroom pin formation two days earlier when using sawdust spawn.

Sawdust spawn is available in larger bags then grain, and it covers better allowing for more inoculation points.

Whether I use grain or sawdust I have gone to using a 5% inoculation rate. That is, 5% of the weight weight of the straw is the weight used in spawn. Bags of grain come in 4 lb. units and can plant about 4 sleeves (polyethylene 4 mil bags). Large bags of sawdust spawn come is 5.5 lb. bags and can plant 5 1/2 sleeves. If buying small quantities of spawn, sawdust ends up being the more economical choice. However, grain spawn requires buying a lesser amount of bags to receive our lowest price break. This makes grain spawn ideal for large scale commercial customers See the graphic below for our quantity discounting.

Now for the big question, which type of spawn produces more mushrooms? Remember earlier when I stated that I did not have all the answers...well, I don't have the answer to this just yet. I have seen some impressive numbers (in terms of yield) when using both grain spawn and sawdust spawn. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have seen low yields from both types. Most of the time my diminished yields are due to other factors including (but not limited to) dirty straw, humidifier issues, or fungus gnats (there are many joys to mushroom farming).

My goals for the future are to do more comprehensive yield comparisons, and figure out which additives (if any) can help boost yield even further for sawdust and/or grain spawn. I will be sure to post results as soon as they are available. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weird and Crazed Shiitake: 
Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect
by Mary Ellen Kozak

This spring a lot of new growers have been sending pictures of Shiitake that looks different than what they might have seen on their logs in the summer and fall, in the grocery store or on the web.

Early spring is the time of the classic "flower donko," an Asian grade of Shiitake that is ideal for drying. Due to cold nights, warm days, and large swaths of rain followed by dry spring winds, the thick cuticle of the mushroom cap stretches and cracks to make room for the swelling succulent tissue underneath and as a result of this, the mushroom gets a crazed, bumpy pattern that looks like big floral buttons.

Phoebe holding a Flower Donko Shiitake in a growing region of China where dried Shiitake are a specialty.
These mushrooms take very little time in the food dehydrator to dry and they loose very little size. The problem? If you are selling them as a fresh mushroom, they are very light weight and you have to explain to your customer that they are fairly dry in the fry pan so extra oil or liquid may be necessary to achieve the usual Shiitake texture. They are packed with nutrition and have excellent flavor though!

Any strain of Shiitake can become a flower donko if the conditions are right. Most often, cold weather Shiitake strains give us the largest percent of flower donkos because they like to fruit in the early spring. Frequently in cool, prolonged springs, the wide range and warm weather Shiitake will fruit and be subjected to the same cool, windy weather and also end up in the flower donko grade. It's all about the environment!

Spring Shiitake; Here is a box of West Wind Shiitake harvested after an early spring
warm up and and subsequent cool windy stretch of weather.

Summer Shiitake: Here is West Wind Shiitake after a forced fruiting in July.

Spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful mushrooms and they are a once-a-year seasonal item. Inoculating your logs with cold weather strains will give you the greatest percent of these jewels because they fruit when the weather provides the cold/warm/wet/dry environment. Unless you are drying them for long term storage, however, you may not want to let the mushrooms get quite so dry and cracked. We have actually spritzed boxes of these Shiitake with water and left them in the cooler with the lid on the box to let them absorb a little moisture. To avoid having to do that, read the tips in our blog post, Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake, to manage your developing Shiitake so they will become the thick, succulent spring Shiitake, just perfectly moist with a little bit of crazing on the cap for beauty.

Not your grandmother's coat button.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake:
Tips for the Best Early Crops

by Mary Ellen Kozak

The earliest harvested Shiitake of the season are also the most appreciated. The winters are long, and local farm fresh produce in spring is scarce. And spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms you'll ever grow. There are actually a few tricks you'll need to know to make your Shiitake logs fruit early in the season upon the heels of retreating snow.

1. Inoculate some logs with Cold Weather strains, like Miss Happiness, Snow Cap, Bellwether and Jupiter. If your logs are ready and spring comes on fast, you will see mushroom pins pebbling the bark on healthy logs within a week or two of the disappearance of the last patch of snow. Life for these strains really does begin after 40!

Spring Shiitake are also very beautiful.

2. Secure fruiting blankets, burlap or clear plastic around stacks of logs to keep humidity high with developing mushrooms. Drying wind is a big hurdle to clear in achieving great quality Shiitake in the spring. The nature of these cold weather strains is to pin in really cool weather, and because of this they develop slowly. The commonly vigorous spring wind poses a real threat in drying the caps and arresting mushroom development. Covering your logs with simple tarps will do wonders in helping the caps stay moist. Normally we do not recommended plastic coverings because they can heat the logs underneath too quickly or cause too much condensation to drip down upon developing mushrooms, but early spring is a fine time to use clear plastic sheeting. Note: In really windy spring weather, you can also wet a tarp of an absorbent fabric like an older, weathered fruiting blanket and secure plastic over it, creating an amazing humid fruiting chamber!

Log stacks are covered with fruiting or frost blankets to hold humidity around developing mushrooms. Notice the sprinkler on a pole being used to keep the blankets moist.

3. Don't soak the logs... but you can rain on them! If you don't have the time or blankets to cover all your log stacks but you can get a sprinkler out to them, do not hesitate to just turn it on! Caps will stay moist and pliable, growth will proceed just fine. Turn off the sprinkler when the caps start to open to let them dry off a little before harvest. The caps will be a little dark and glossy but for home use they are just fine!

Note: People do soak logs to stimulate fruiting and that is an essential technique for summer production. However, this is usually ineffective with cold weather strains. For logs inoculated with wide range or warm weather strains, temperatures need to stabilize at 70F for a few weeks before they will respond to a cold water soaking. Cold weather logs simply will not respond. Keep your soak tanks under cover until spring is here for sure.

These logs are being sprinkled to encourage fruiting and quality
for these cold weather Shiitake strains

Spring Shiitake are dense with a beautiful landscape of brown, white and cream on the cap top from the swelling and contracting of mushroom tissue caused by fluctuating cold and warm spring temperatures. With a little extra care you can nurture these developing mushrooms to become true woodland spring beauties. Celebrate and and cook up some with a recipe of spring bok choy, below.

Bellwether, a cold weather Shiitake strain

Spring Shiitake must be celebrated, and here at F&FP, the first ones go directly into the mouth as a welcome ritual and enjoyment of the cool, garlicky flavor unique to raw Shiitake. The two methods shown below are both easy and delicious ways to prepare Shiitake with another welcome spring vegetable, Bok Choy. The recipe below is inspired by Zorba Pastor from our local Public Radio station "Zorba Pastor on your Health". This recipe is fresh and light with a mild miso flavor. An even easier recipe (and you won't believe how easy) but slightly sweet and saltier follows and especially enhances the flavor of the Shiitake (as if it needs it)!

Shiitake Mushrooms and Miso Bok Choy

2T toasted sesame oil
1 T miso paste (I prefer white)
1T Rice vinegar
1 T grated fresh ginger root
1 lb fresh Shiitake, stemmed and sliced
1lb Bok choy
sesame seeds, cilantro or chopped scallion for garnish
cooked brown rice or soba noodles, for serving 

Heat a large saute pan and add oil. When warm, add mushrooms and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until Shiitake soften or brown slightly, depending on your preference. Then add miso paste, vinegar, ginger. Toss and coat the mushrooms and then add the bok choy. Cover until the mix is bright green and soft, about 3 minutes. Spoon over rice or noodles and add garnish. Serve and be delighted.

Shiitake Mushrooms and Oyster Sauced Bok Choy

Bok Choy
High quality Oyster Sauce
Toasted sesame oil

Heat a bit of oil in a wok. Add sliced mushrooms and salt lightly. Saute a few minutes until soft or browned at edges. Add sliced bok choy, stems and leaves both. Saute a few minutes and drizzle with Oyster sauce until warmed through - do not overcook, a minute or two maximum! Plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. So easy and so delicious!