Autumn is mushroom time. A wet August and September with mild temperatures are ideal, but that doesn’t happen every year. October and November can usually be relied on. And cooking is fun again, the body craves a warm meal. Mushrooms must have been the surprise eggs of the early human hunter.
I used to (and still do) go for lengthy walks to find them. Get up early (better before the ones in the know) and spend 3-4 hours in the forest scanning the ground. One develops a sense for mushrooms and their preferred places after a while. One might actually smell them, like a truffle dog, but it’s more likely that experience signals that a pretty birch tree with fresh moss underneath is just the place one would choose to live in if one were a mushroom. There’s also the weather component – a warm rain, and they pop, often overnight.
After such a day, I tend to dream of mushrooms. It’s like finding rare books in a library without catalogue, wandering along the shelves with the head tilted to one side, examining titles. Over a few hours it’s draining in a weird sort of way.
While good days fill the baskets quickly, more often than not there’s none, or only the grandpas, mushy and wormy inside.
Then I discovered Shiitake. Got some prepared oak logs out of curiosity, later inoculated some birch logs myself. Shiitake mushrooms like it warm and moist, they prefer higher temperatures than the local ones, so the outcome was rather uncertain.
It appeared to be well worth it.
Shiitake logs fruit in waves. I found if I let them rest for a few weeks, then re-moisten them over night in the rain barrel, I can well control the fruiting and get a quite predictable harvest. Since I have several logs which can be rotated, there are always some mushrooms. Shiitake have a distinct aroma, few is needed to spice up a meal. I find it quite similar to garlic (and believe it imparts a similar odor…) They are very mushroomy, solid and chewy, and can be dried well, if there’s an oversupply. Since I can take them fresh directly from the garden, I never had a wormy one (they are also not prone to it, it seems). In fact, they are pretty creatures:
I’ve tried several log stacking methods. Currently I keep some logs in a wine barrel from La Rioja. Without any care, there’s always a fruiting piece. The barrel keeps the logs from drying out too much in the heat of the summer, I think. And the occasional animal visitor to the garden has less access. Coming from the logs, the mushrooms are basically kitchen-ready.