The last local edible I would expect to find at a Cape Cod farmers' market is a mushroom. The fungi for me conjure up visions of dare-devil foragers, slinking into the woods with empty sacks and returning with bulging bags of gold. The sounds of a back alley restaurant transaction play in the background, punctuated with the crisp whir of dollar bills changing hands.
If I'm not reading that script, it's a biology nerd shakily consulting his mushroom guide as he reaches to pluck an uncertain fate from a backyard log.
The possibility of farming mushrooms had never really resonated with those visions. I knew of a place that was growing shiitakes in Maine—Oyster Creek Mushroom Company—but they were also purveyors of wild mushrooms. So when Julie Winslow offered me a locally grown bag of meaty shiitakes, I was happily surprised.
Winslow grows the mushrooms at Cape Coastal Farm in Orleans. The process begins with a log, which is drilled with holes, inoculated with shiitake spawn, and sealed with wax. When the weather is right, Winslow soaks the logs overnight in a tub of water to initiate fruiting, and the harvest begins about 10-14 days later. Managed well, the logs each produce about 1/3 of a pound of mushrooms 3 times a year for at least four years, but up to ten. Not bad for a species native to Asia.
Excited as I was by the prospect of local mushrooms, I was an easy target for Winslow's next sell: one of the logs itself. They stood piled up in front of the farmers' market stand, offering a bargain at $20 a log (I did the math; my yield over four years would be just under 4 pounds, bringing the cost per pound in at almost exactly $5. That's a pretty good deal on a product that sells in grocery aisles for upwards of $10 per pound.) I handed over my last Andrew Jackson of the morning and toted my log back to the car.
Too bad I didn't read the fine print. The instruction sheet that Winslow handed me with the log reminds the reader that hot weather in the 80's (read: from now until September) is not conducive to fruiting. I tucked it into the shed for safe keeping.
In the meantime, I'm getting my shroom fix from the bag of shiitakes Winslow sold me from Cape Coastal's logs. Today I threw the thick meaty fringe of the fungi against a pat of hot butter and let them soak up the flavor of several Orleans scallions before pureeing the mixture into a creamy shiitake bisque.
Chop 1 and 1/2 cups scallions, 1/4 cup celery leaf, 1 tablespoon garlic chives, and roughly 4 cups shiitake mushrooms. Heat 4-6 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy sauce pot. Sauté scallions and celery leaf for about 5 minutes, then add mushrooms, garlic chives, and 1-2 teaspoons salt. Cover and let cook 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring from time to time.
Scoop mushroom mixture into blender making sure to include any juice. Add 1 cup milk and puree. Pour mixture back into sauce pot. Simmer on low, adding 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper, 1/4-1/3 cup white wine, and an additional 1/2-1 cup milk depending on taste and thickness. Simmer until flavors combine; serve hot with a sprinkling of chives.
*Scallions, celery leaf, garlic chives, and shiitake mushrooms are all ingredients that can be purchased locally at the Orleans and other Cape farmers' markets, depending on season and availability.