I forgot about my Christmas gift from 20 years ago—shiitake mushrooms. I think it was short lived due to my lack of agrarian knowledge. There probably aren’t many successful mushroom farmers in the area.
By DAVID GREEN
Let’s turn back to Christmas for a few minutes, because part of my Christmas arrived late. It’s here now and it’s still developing today—right on the kitchen counter.
When the Green family adults draw names for the annual Christmas gift exchange, there’s always a suspenseful waiting period to find out who drew who. Not all of the drawees are present for the drawing, and not all of the drawees are willing to announce their giftee. Some like to keep it a surprise.
The matter of suspense comes in waiting to find out which person will receive a gift from my brother Dan.
Large plastic cone heads and other strange head gear. A plastic blowup model based on Edvard Munch’s painting: “The Scream.” A squid that glows in the dark. An artificial tongue. Dan finds the unusual.
Sometime last fall Dan wrote a letter asking what I wanted for Christmas. Ah, the long wait was over. I would be the recipient of Dan’s thoughtfulness.
He wrote several letters asking for ideas. If I didn’t give him ideas, he threatened to create items such as molded cat hair figurines. I don’t think I came up with anything, but eventually he did. He gave me something alive that’s neither plant nor animal. I take that back. The dictionary says it’s a “lower plant.”
I became the proud, somewhat puzzled, owner of the Fungi Perfect Shiitake Mushroom Patch.
I opened the shipping box and discovered a white block that resembled an odd-shaped popcorn ball. It was wrapped in a plastic bag.
An instruction booklet started off with a glossary of important terms such as flush, initiate, mycelium and primordia. It seemed that “flush” might be the most important word to remember.
I learned that the white block was actually a mass of compressed sawdust with shiitake (shee-ta-kay) mycelium inside. The mycelium is a fungal network of thread-like cells.
Nothing was happening with my shiitake so I moved on to step 2 of the booklet. I put the mass in the refrigerator for a few days, then cut open the bag and dumped in tap water, first boiled and then cooled. The suggested method was to submerge the block in a 5-gallon bucket of rain or well water, of which I had neither.
After this, I set the block on a plate, misted it with water, stuck in a chop stick and erected the humidity tent over the top. Repeated misting three times a day brought no results. The only change is that it started to look more disgusting every day. One of the kids said it looked like a marshmallow that was toasted light brown.
I was about to give up after a week and a half. I didn’t see any of the expected blisters. I thought about sending it back, but a note at the end of the booklet says more than 90 percent of the returned kits happily produce mushrooms. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with these kits; it’s the growers fault.
But then a mushroom emerged. My first baby shiitake. It grew rapidly and when it reached about five inches across, it was removed and I took a bite. Not bad at all. A rather compelling taste, actually. I even took another bite. It later became part of a spaghetti sauce and the shiitake added a new flavor to the dish.
I’ve got two more mushrooms on the way and I’m looking forward to additional flushes for the next six months. See? I told you “flush” was an important word to remember.
Lucky me. I have an adequate supply of shiitake coming in, fresh from my kitchen. The rest of you mycological seekers will have to pay at least $7.95 per dried ounce.