I am writing this on Wednesday. It is noontime; we have just finished a lunch of boiled lobster and granny smith apples. Outside the storm is raging. But we haven't lost power yet, the woodstove is keeping the cold out, and in my imagination, I'm spending the afternoon in the warm, foggy greenhouse of the mushroom farm. It's nice there.
The variety you see up there is a small shiitake, fruiting on a block made out of wood chips. Shiitake is one of the twenty-two varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year, and it's one of the best known. They also grow a jumbo shiitake, which has caps about three to four inches in diameter. Shiitakes, like many of the varieties the farm grows, are considered both edible and medicinal, and are full of all kinds of surprising health benefits. For instance, did you know that shiitakes are a great source of iron and B vitamins?
Below are descriptions of a few of the other varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year. Different varieties are available at different times of year, but they can all be grown either inside the greenhouse following the rise and fall of temperatures over the seasons or outside during the warmer months. The company was started on Nantucket and recently moved to Chatham, so we're lucky to have a new local source of mushrooms! The farm will be participating in farmers' markets all over the Cape this season, including Wellfleet.
ENOKI: This has been called an "indispensable ingredient" in traditional Japanese cooking. It's a bunched pale ivory mushroom with very long, thin stems and small round caps. It's often used in soups, stir-fries, and sometimes salads. The Japanese love it in a winter dish called nabemono, which is made of other veggies and proteins (meat and seafood) in a warm broth.
REISHI: Reishi is one of the oldest known medicinal mushrooms. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Amongst other things it's said to fight cancer, tumors, and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. They are most commonly used in soups and to make a savory health brew called mushroom tea.
WHITE ELM: These pretty flat white mushrooms are great for all kinds of things. One recipe in particular that I found that sounds absolutely delicious is this focaccia with white elm mushrooms and rosemary (scroll down!).
LION'S MANE: You have to click on the link below if only to see the photos. This mushroom is wild looking. It's covered in long, white filaments that hang down kind of like a shaggy dog, or cheerleading pom-poms, or...a lion's mane! This article says it tastes similar to lobster or shrimp, and that it's best caramelized in olive oil, deglazed with sake, and finished with butter to taste. Yum!
OYSTER MUSHROOMS (WHITE, KING, GOLDEN, PINK, BROWN): Oyster mushrooms are considered a delicacy in many countries. They're great in soups, stuffed, in stir-fries, and are sometimes made into a sauce. You want to eat oyster mushrooms young as they get tougher as they age.
NAMEKO: This small, amber brown mushroom has a somewhat slimy coating. It's very popular in Japan and has all kinds of culinary uses, including as an ingredient in miso soup. Americans are often scared off by the slime-factor, but farm manager Troy Janusz says he thinks it's delicious.
They're also growing brick top, black poplar, shimeji, chicken of the woods, maitake, turkey tail (check out the photo!), cauliflower, wine caps, nebrodensis, and hypholoma capnoides. It's a mouthful, in every sense.
One of Wesley's favorite things to make with mushrooms is something he calls mushroom tea—he uses dried mushrooms known for their medicinal properties and warms them up on low in a crockpot with water. He says you don't want to boil it because this will take away some of the beneficial properties, but just sip it warm like you would chicken broth.
If anyone's interested in a full list of mushroom varieties with descriptions or the farm's production schedule, shoot me an email and I'll send them along.