Rejoice, There’s Fungus Growing In My Bedroom!

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If you’d have told me a few months ago that I’d soon be growing shiitake mushrooms, I’d probably have looked at you like you’d lost your marbles. But, you know, I’m learning that if you live long enough, all kinds of strange things come to pass. And so, this is the story of how mushrooms came to growing in my second bedroom.

It  all began with Lee Brokaw, a friend who lives in Santa Cruz, that legendary surfing town south of San Francisco. Lee often drops in on Monday afternoons to visit us cooks in Palo Alto while we’re putting together our weekly vegetarian dinners. Most of the time, he brings  samples of his latest culinary experiment (right now he’s deeply into Korean cuisine), but a few weeks ago, Lee showed up with the gift of a dark, mysterious log clothed in a plastic bag, and protected by a cardboard box. He’d been to Santa Cruz’s annual Fungus Fair over the weekend, and evidently, done a little shopping. It turns out that what he brought  was a shiitake mushroom minifarm, a growing kit which is a “specially formulated mixture of red oak sawdust and rice bran which has been fully impregnated with the culture (“mycelium”) of the shiitake mushroom…” Enclosed was a four-page flyer with the simple growing instructions.

Within a week, my log was peppered with baby mushrooms (blue photo below), and in five or so days more, the mushrooms were mature (photos, above and below).  In fact, while I was out of town for a few days, the mushrooms became more open than ideal (for both culinary and medicinal purposes, partly-closed caps are thought to be of better quality). However, the shiitakes were delicious, sautéed, and in soup–you’ll find some of my recipes using fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms here, here, here and here. The people who made my shiitake log, Far West Fungi, have a retail store in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, but you can order yours on line. The World’s Healthiest Foods site has an article on the well-documented nutritional and medicinal benefits of shiitake mushrooms here.  As for me, if all goes well, I may soon have a second crop of fungus popping up in my bedroom.

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View Lee Brokaw’s photos of the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, after the jump.

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