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!