When I was growing up, I kept a long list of possible occupations which rotated rather frequently. Doctor, diplomat, dog breeder, baker, florist, but I'll be honest, I never considered mushroom farmer. And yet here I am. I say I, but Melina and I are sharing custody of this big, bad mushroom baby.
Last week, Melina and I attended the Zone 7 Annual Winter Meeting. Zone 7 is a New Jersey farm fresh local food distributor and a major source of produce for Boxed Organics. At the meeting, we shook hands with several of our growers and tasted all sorts of yummies from a myriad of farms in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The autumn harvest is long past, but as it turns out, there is quite a lot happening in January. From apples and local honey, to beautiful botanical soda concoctions and gorgeous greenhouse lettuces, to oozy unctious cheeses and mushrooms!
Sometimes, it pays to shut the party down. After the potluck lunch, when everyone was packing up to leave, we strolled by the mushroom man's table admiring his array of packaged mushrooms, but mostly intrigued by the block growing shiitake mushrooms. Much to our surprise, he asked us if we wanted it. "Um, yes! What do we do with it?".
I wish I had paid better attention to his answer. I was so stunned to be taking the thing home I didn't think to ask too many questions. All I remember is that he asked, "Do you have a basement?" and later said, "You want to submerge it". When Melina informed me that I would be the first keeper of the mushroom baby I panicked. Every houseplant I have is perpetually droopy and even though I manage to grow a fairly bountiful crop of tomatoes, kale, herbs, and cukes in my garden every summer, I know literally zilch about growing mushrooms.
But really how hard could this be? For heaven's sake, if it rains for 4 days straight in the spring I have mushrooms all over my front yard. I grow mushrooms without even trying! Obviously they like water. I got out my little spray bottle and for the first 2 days I sprayed it all over every time I walked by. Even though the mushroom baby was covered with mushrooms, for some reason I thought they would continue to - well, mushroom. But this morning, when I got downstairs they had begun to visibly shrivel. Panic! Mayhem! I should have put it in the basement immediately. Then I remembered the mushroom man's instruction to submerge it. I went to the basement and got the only pot in the house that I knew could hold this thing - the lobster pot.
I fit the mushroom baby inside and started to fill the pot with lukewarm water to simulate rain. So smart. But as the water level got higher and higher, the mushroom block started to float. As if it were made of cork. I had to keep turning it over to make sure all of the mushrooms had a chance in the bath. Something didn't feel quite right and I had a sudden thought that perhaps, the mushrooms should have been harvested prior to submerging it. Melina, the vegetable goddess, confirmed that this was the case. After which I realized, hey, this is 2018. Hello, YouTube? Anybody home?
Luckily, several mushroom professionals have made videos and are eager to share the wealth of their myco-knowledge with a hapless mushroom novice like me. After watching several videos, I let the mushroom baby dry out for the rest of the day and then harvested the whole crop. It's been pretty much mushroom mania here ever since.
The block is now hopefully working on it's next crop. I'm all out of mushrooms, and I was just getting started!
Recipes to follow...