Greetings & Happy Summer from Upstate NY.
Since our campaign ended in May (thanks again to all the supportive folks!) Ken and I have been busy; writing the book, doing research, attending the North American Agroforestry Conference in Canada and presenting on shiitake mushrooms, planning visits to case study sites, and continuing our agroforestry research at Cornell.
As a mushroom farmer, 2013 has brought me a season of plenty, and in addition to being very exciting it’s occasionally been a scramble to figure out what to do with all the mushrooms! I’m averaging 30 lbs a week right now, which I send to restaurants and sell direct to customers.
One of my favorite aspects of growing shiitake is how versitile, and forgiving it is. Though I am working on a project to examine the role ducks can play in reducing slug damage, there is still inevitable damage – especially when we get a rain like we did a few weeks back, almost 4 inches over the course of two days. But, no loss! Even damaged mushrooms can be as delectable as the perfect specimen. Allow me to take you through the ABCs of enjoying shiitake:
Grade A – Eat ’em Fresh
The best of the best really must be enjoyed as soon as possible after harvest. Little known is that the peak harvest time is also peak for the spore distribution from the mushroom caps – and that the spores are what provide the aroma and taste peak of the mushrooms. And, eating them fresh couldn’t be easier – just slice and sautee for a few minutes in butter or olive oil on medium-high heat… just a little bit. You want to cook until the water “drops out” of the mushroom, as they are 96% water it can seem dry until all of the sudden the pan gets really wet! Have no fear – just keep going until some of the water is gone and the mushrooms brown a bit. Then combine with your other favorite foods and enjoy!
Grade B – Dry them and save that vitamin D for later
Those mushrooms who are nearly perfect but may have a slug bite or two are still perfectly fine – you can eat them fresh no problem, but at our
farm those mushrooms not deemed worthy of direct sales go into the drier. I am currently working on a research project through my work at Cornell that is testing three different simple solar driers to see which is most effective at using sunlight to dry mushrooms – a “free” energy method and, according to Paul Stamets, an easy way to get more Vitamin D in your mushrooms. As he notes, it’s rather easy to dry mushr
ooms in the sun on a screen – but we are working on closed container methods as is required by the regulatory folks for those who are selling commercially. The other bonus is that if it rains, as is often the care here in central New York, the mushrooms are protected! Results of the experiment forthcoming at the end of the growing season. Of course, you can also use a regular electric dehydrator, set at 140 – 150 degrees F for 6 to 8 hours. Dried mushrooms will keep in a mason jar for up to one year.
Grade C – Make a delicious spread
Then there are those mushrooms you harvest that well, just don’t look so good – the slugs, perhaps
rain just beat you to them. For these ones I like to find a few minutes and make a delicious batch of shiitake/hazelnut spread. It doesn’t take long and it a big hit at parties. Interestingly enough when made fresh sometimes the shiitake is less pronounced, but 24 hours in the fridge and it is truly perfect. For now, I don’t sell this to customers as I don’t have a food processing license, but its a great potluck dish.
Here is the recipe I have been working with:
2 lbs shiitake mushrooms
4 cups hazelnuts
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 head of garlic
1 avocado or 8 oz cream cheese
4 tblsp of ume plum vinegar or red wine
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Makes 2 Quarts or 64 oz
Coarsely chop hazelnuts in a food processor and combine with minced shiitake and olive oil in a skillet. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes until cooked down and browning. Add ume vinegar/red wine to the last five minutes of cooking. Let cool and add avacado/cream cheese and process well in food processor, adding salt and pepper to taste.