One of my Christmas presents this year was a “Shitake Mushroom Patch” — a five-pound chunk of sawdust held together by shitake mycelium. (Mycelium is, as the accompanying instructions define it is “the fungal network of thread-like cells that give rise to mushrooms.”) Encased in a plastic bag, it looked a lot like a large cube-shaped popcorn ball. It smelled faintly like stale beer.
Last year, the same family members gave me a GPS — maybe I should have added a sentence to that year’s thank you mentioning how much I love electronic gadgets. …or sent a thank you in the first place.
So this year they decided that they would get me something organic.
Unlike other food gifts that appeared under our tree, a mushroom patch is not immediately edible. It comes with a twelve page instruction manual which starts with a full page flow chart. “What does the patch look like?” This seemed straightforward enough, but the prominent box in the middle of the flowchart labeled “Consult troubleshooting guide” suggested that coaxing mushrooms out of this mass of fungi cells and sawdust was going to be a challenge.
The first step confirmed my suspicion: “Soak in cold water for 24 hours” followed by, in big capitals “DO NOT USE CHLORINATED OR DISTILLED WATER”. Where do you get five gallons of chlorine free water. I could melt snow. There was a 3 inch layer in my back yard. Fortunately I’d posted my predicament on facebook and got a quick tip: let a bucket of tap water sit overnight and the chlorine will evaporate. It works for pet fish so it should work for fungi. I briefly considered a second suggestion: go to Costco and buy a bag of dried ones. I’d never be able to face my family again.
My “patch” is now quietly soaking in our warm kitchen. I opted to use the bag it came in rather than a bucket. The bucket method requires bricks to hold the block under water and I wasn’t ready to dig them out of our snow-covered patio. I’ve left the thermostat up — the instruction book says to keep it warm. The warmth has definitely amplified the stale beer smell which I hope is a sign of mushroom health. Tomorrow I’m to begin misting it — three times a day. And in two weeks, or so, I’m going to have edible mushrooms. Or… I’ll be doing what I often do with my electronic gadgets: consulting the troubleshooting guide.
If I’ve inspired you to try growing your own shitakes, mine came from Fungi Perfecti.