6.09.2008

Cape Cod Shiitakes: Chinese mushrooms take root in Orleans

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.

SHIITAKE BISQUE

Serves 6

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.

3 comments :

BoBeenie said...

Such a cool idea! My man thought of that, too, and gave me mushroom plugs for my birthday. Now we have our own Shiitake and Blue Oyster garden going right here in Brunswick, Maine. I'll let you know how they grow!

BoBeenie

Anonymous said...

I love your blog!

There are a bunch of breweries that use their spent grain to grow 'shrooms. I have always wanted to find somoene locally to pursue that..as we have PLENTY o' spent grains..so if you know anyone - have them contact me
Beth @ cape cod beer

Here are some interesting articles that refer to growing mushrooms on spent grain..plus some other uses.

We currently use most of it for pigs..and some compost..and I make some killer cheese crackers every once in a while...

http://www.beercook.com/articles/maltmushrooms.htm

http://beeractivist.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/grains-of-possibility-ways-to-use-spent-brewing-grains/

Diary of a Locavore said...

bobeenie: cool! be sure to keep me updated. I'd love to taste a locally grown blue oyster.

beth: thank you! i will have to ask around about the spent grain idea...it sounds like a very cool and efficient way to grow.

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