Sunday, December 7, 2008

Growing Oyster Mushrooms

Chronicle of my efforts to grow oyster mushrooms indoors on used coffee grounds.

10.9.08- gallons of coffee grounds mixed with a Fungi Perfecti indoor mushroom kit (espresso oyster mushroom) on 

11.10.08- Stalks growing- but no caps.  Insufficient light- need to add a floral grow light!

11.20.08- Floral grow light added to boost light input. 12-hour on/off schedule using an electronic timer.  Temperature about 65-70F.

11.25.08- First oysters ready!

11.25.08- Second 5 gallon container of coffee grounds mixed with mycelium from first containers to start a second batch.

11.29.08- Full harvest of the oysters- about 20 full size mushrooms.

12.6.08- I am keeping batch 1 in the grow light with water for 2 weeks- after which time I will water again to try and get a second flush.  Batch #2 is mostly covered in mycelium now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Short-Stemmed Russula (Russula brevipes)

Season: July through October
Edibility: Not reccomended!

Well it's late October in Rhode Island, and freezing temperatures are very near. Mushrooms are not completely done for the year- but they are rapidly becoming scarce. After a dry spell for a couple weeks we finally had a good rain two days ago- and a few mushrooms have popped up. Today's mushroom, Russula brevipes is one of the most common mushrooms this time of year in this area. Russula's are very common, and infamous for being very hard to positively identify.

In general, members of the genus Russula are fairly large, gilled with a white underside and a cap that most often is a variation of white or red. They are so common and generally unedible (due to a bitter or acrid taste, as well as some species being poisonous) that they have earned themselves the acronym JAR (Just Another Russula). Bear in mind however that the rule with mushrooms is that there are always exceptions! There are some species that are supposed to be delicious, and many different colors, sizes and variations within the genus. Positive ID is often difficult if not nigh impossible. Russula's are often confused with another genus- the Lactarius genus (known as milky caps) with the primary distinguishing factor being that Lactarius species exude a milky liquid when injured.

As far as chowin' down on these guys- here is my recommendation. Many of the poisonous Russula's are red capped- so I would avoid those. A few of the white capped (and in particular a green capped variety) can be tasty, however the odds are that what you find will either taste like nothing, or have quite an acrid or bitter taste. If you really want to try one out and you are pretty darn sure you have a Russula, taste a tiny bit. Chew it- and then spit it out. If it tastes great- then you are lucky and got a good variety. I would also suggest waiting at least 5 minutes after you taste it- as often the bitter flavor will slowly develop in your mouth. If it is bitter, or bland- don't bother with it.

Most people avoid eating Russula as the vast majority are no good for eating- and many species can make you vomit/quite unhappy. The samples I collected today are probably Russula brevipes- one of the most common species. I did taste two of them- both were exceedingly bland- with a slow bitterness developing in my mouth. I always spit out any mushrooms I taste and rinse my mouth thoroughly afterwards. No reason to take undue risk!

To learn more about various Russula species check out the wikipedia page or the MushroomExpert.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hedgehog (Hydnum umbilicatum)

This little hedgehog mushroom (a relative of the larger and better known h. repandum) is probably the most desirable species I have found thus far in my adventures.  It is relatively small(~1 inch across the cap) and grows very close to the ground.  It is suspected to be pretty closely related to the chanterelle (oooohhh) and is delicious! I have only found one small area where they are growing, however as they are supposed to be a perennially recurring species, I look forward to seeing them again next year with any luck!

Hedgehogs are considered one of the "safest" wild mushrooms to eat, as their spore bearing surface (underside of the cap) is quite unique.  Instead of gills on the underside (most common) or pores, the underside of these guys is covered in little teeth that look like mini icicles.  

All told I probably only collected about 15 of them- just enough for a tasty appetizer when sautéed in butter!

Read more about the Hydnum umbilicatum here or here.
(Note the teeth visible on the underside)
Flavor- Sweet and rich with a crunchy bite.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Edible New England Mushrooms

Below are a list of edible New England mushrooms I have encountered (and eaten).
It is not even close to comprehensive, but I hope you find it useful!
  1. Chanterelle
  2. Hedgehog
  3. Chicken of the woods
  4. Hen of the woods
  5. Chestnut Bolete
  6. Honey Mushroom (with caution)
  7. Beefsteak Polypore
  8. Matsutake
  9. Painted Bolete
Additionally- here is a list of mushrooms that I have experimented with (and had at least some success) in growing in New England.

Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa)

The Hen of the woods is what started me off on this adventure.  
You can read more about it here on wikipedia, but quickly: Hen of the woods is generally found near oak trees in the late summer to fall, is renowned for potentially having a host of medical uses, and can grow to be over 50 pounds!

The Story
One saturday afternoon I was surfing the web and read about some of the most common edible mushrooms- including the Hen of the woods.  As my property abuts a large forest, I decided to take a walk and see what I might find.  I did not make it more the 50 feet into the woods before I came across a beautiful specimen- or rather three around a single tree!  The odds of reading about a random mushroom online, walking a minute behind your house, and immediately finding a highly sought after mushroom in prime ripeness seemed completely implausible, so I walked on- not believing that this huge (more than 15 inches wide) mushroom could be the Hen of the woods.  

The next day I read about it some more, and visited it again- and it was indeed the Grifola frondosa!  Bugs were starting to swarm around it- but I managed to harvest a decent amount of clean mushroom.  
Hen of the woods is a great starter mushroom as it is unique in appearance, and the only mushrooms that look somewhat similar are not dangerous- and about as palatable as wood- so they are unlikely to be confused for long.
Here is my harvest- which is now frozen (except for those I had on a tasty egg sandwich!), and the second picture is a group of Grifola growing on a lawn were an oak tree used to live.

Taste:  firm with a nice texture- not unlike chicken, fairly mild.

A very official disclaimer!

As I expand my knowledge about New England mushrooms, one of my goals is to find delicious ones that I can eat.  
This is not an endeavor to be taken lightly- as it is quite possible to cause yourself serious harm if not death from eating certain mushrooms.  I will provide the most accurate information I can here, but:
Be very careful about eating wild mushrooms- before popping anything into your mouth, consult multiple sources to make sure of what you are eating, and ideally have an expert ID any mushroom for you before you eat it for the first time.
I will always try to include links to more info, and pictures of the mushrooms I feature in an effort to make things as clear as possible.
There are a great variety of edible wild mushrooms out there, and several are fairly "safe", i.e. easy to identify, and do not have poisonous look-alikes. That being said- don't trust me- and if you are ever in doubt about what mushroom you have- throw it out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And the adventure begins!

Mushrooms.  Tens of thousands of species, with less than half identified.

I am determined to learn more about some of the local New England fungi- and hopefully have some great meals along the way.

More to come soon!