February 20, 2015

How I Almost Ran Off With the Mushroom Man - Photo by Genthar/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com) #mushrooms #beginningfarmer

It’s strange how random encounters stick with you. Years ago, at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, there was a guy who sold mushrooms. I’d always been a white mushroom kinda gal, occasionally adventuring into the world of portobellos or criminis, but it wasn’t until I met Awesome Mushroom Guy that I crossed the border into the world of exotic mushrooms.

He may have had a little crush on me, or perhaps he was just obsessed with evangelizing the wonders of mushrooms, but one day after I had made my usual mundane selection, he put a hand on my arm. “Wait,” he said. “You need to try one of these.” He plucked a weird-looking, shaggy white clump from a bin and added it to my bag. “It’s a lion’s mane,” he said, in reverent tones. “They’re amaaaaazing.”

I was a bit frightened, both by his intensity and by the strange fungus, but I took it home, sliced it up, and sautéed it in a bit of butter. Meaty, delicious, and tasting a bit like seafood (scallop? lobster?), it was indeed amazing, with the extra “a’s.” I could have eaten 40 of them.

I couldn’t wait for the next market day. I charged Awesome Mushroom Guy’s table like it was a clearance sale at Nordstrom Rack. “MORE!” I panted. I loaded up: Another couple of lion’s manes, some chanterelles, a few oyster mushrooms. I was hooked. Awesome Mushroom Guy was thrilled: He had an acolyte.

One day, he slipped something into my bag, after I’d paid. A gift. “Something special,” he whispered, with a knowing wink. I was pretty sure it was some kind of contraband. Did he sell psilocybin mushrooms, as well? I took a peek in the bag as I walked back to my office. The mushroom looked like something from a fairy story: Its shape, that of a tiny wizard’s hat; its spongy surface was covered with wrinkled ridges. It looked … foresty.

It was a fresh morel!

I’d heard of morels, but their rarity and price had kept them out of my reach. I bought some fresh fettuccini and minced that single morel into a light cream sauce. It was a revelation. That single, tiny mushroom boosted the flavor of the sauce into the stratosphere. After that morel, I seriously considered deepening my relationship with Awesome Mushroom Guy beyond our weekly tête-à-tête at the Farmers’ Market. If you’ve ever had a fresh morel, you’d understand.

How I Almost Ran Off With the Mushroom Man - Photo by Cyn Cady (HobbyFarms.com) #mushrooms #beginningfarmer

Years have passed, but I’ve been fascinated by mushrooms ever since. I’ve got ambitions of foraging, but I am definitely cautious enough to know I’ve got to round up an expert. I don’t want to risk my liver on a misidentified ’shroom. So, in order to satisfy my longing, I decided to put together a mini-mushroom farm.

Like many things in my life, the mini-mushroom farm quickly spun out of control.

I ordered a packet of 100 lion’s mane mushroom plugs from the lovely folks at Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com). I selected an oak that needed trimming, cut the logs into the required 3- to 4-foot lengths and began drilling my plug holes. After a while, I decided to count the holes, to make sure I was going to have enough. I had 131 holes, and a fair amount of log to go. I called my new BFFs at Fungi Perfecti to order another packet. “How big is the log?” Heather Fungi Perfecti asked. “And how close are those holes?” Turns out I may have been a bit overzealous in my hole placement. This might be the best-inoculated mushroom log in the history of the world.

How I Almost Ran Off With the Mushroom Man - Photo by Cyn Cady (HobbyFarms.com) #mushrooms #beginningfarmer

Heather Fungi Perfecti popped another packet in the mail and told me not to worry. My confidence restored, I ordered a couple packs of pearl oyster mushrooms and a packet of shiitakes. Meanwhile, I dutifully tapped the original set of plugs into my log and sealed them with beeswax. When the next packet arrives, I’ll finish out that log, and maybe start another. And a shiitake log … and a pearl oyster log …

Once I get the logs inoculated, it’s a waiting game while the spawn incubates. ’ll keep them moist through the spring and summer, then sometime in the fall, I’ll initiate them (a whole new world of jargon! Is there anything better?), partially burying them in buckets of sand in preparation for fruiting. Until then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and my appetite whetted. Awesome Mushroom Guy would be so proud.

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