Saturday, November 07, 2009


THE SPEED OF FUNGUS


A couple years ago I selected a number of good oak branches from among some fresh firewood oak trees I'd been given, and set them aside out in the garden under the chestnut tree until the annual late-autumn sale of shiitake spore. At spore time I went to the farm store where, in addition to standard shiitake spore, they were selling spore for a new shiitake I’d never heard of, called JUMBO shiitake. The photos looked impressive so I decided to give it a try; anyway I already had a lot of logs producing the standard shiitake.

By the time I got started, I had so many logs waiting under the chestnut tree it took me a while to get them all inoculated, plus the weather was on-and-offy, plus the old drill finally gave out after years of struggling against sheer oak and I had to get a new drill, then the spore-plug-sized drill bit broke and I had to go find another one right in the middle of log-drilling-bit-demand season, each delay extending the task (ideally, fresh cut logs should be inoculated asap, or at most within 6 weeks) while the logs waited on the ground. I finally wrapped up the JUMBO inoculation quite a bit over schedule.

Leaving the logs on the ground like that, like any old fallen-in-the-forest logs, was not a good idea - indeed in some mushroom quarters it would be considered log abuse - but I didn't know that at the time. In the next couple of years I learned, though, as I watched various fungal growths emerge from my now sullied logs. Despite the impressive fungal diversity, though, there were no signs of JUMBO shiitake-- not even minijumbo shiitake. I began to think that my mushroom ambitions had been crowded out by these fungal opportunists that do have their proper place in nature, which is anywhere far from the elite society of my select logs. I’m beginning to sound like the bad guy in a Capra movie.

In fact the fungal world put on quite a display using my logs - all at the speed of fungus - for my painful education: wild species of all descriptions I had not seen or noted before, that apparently were always lying in wait for innocent logs to come along; they were now partying big time. There were shelvy fungi and droopy fungi, hard liquescent ones and rubbery ones, even hairy fungi, some of them probably glowed in the dark too, even sang to each other in the evening… ah, but you get the drift of my mushrooming despair... Yes, not only would there be no JUMBO mushrooms for yours truly, there would be less than none, given the profusion of undesired species; what's more, it would take at least three years for me to find out for sure!

Thus it was on that early morning that I passed by without even wanting to look at the mongrel shiitake logs on my way to the compost heap - not that I was going to jump in or anything - things weren't that bad, I was just going to toss on some kitchen garbage - and I bumped into something at knee height that felt like the edge of a sofa. I looked down and saw that it wasn’t a sofa, it was a mushroom!

Altogether there were about 8 sofa edges in this first emergence. Apparently these babies, unlike their conventional relatives, are not much affected by mere intrusions of feral spore. Even only 8 of them was too much for us. We carried a couple over to some big-eating neighbors. I sliced a small one thin, as per one of my shroom recipes, and had it for a large lunch. Great flavor, pleasantly al dente as compared to the standard shiitake, plus did I say they're HUGE. Just picture the edge of a sofa. They were gone before I could get any photos, but next time...

So to get to my point, when I recently got some good Jumbo shiitake logs from my clearing work with Mr. H., while I'm waiting for the spore to get marketed I've stacked the logs carefully on the dry stone floor under the porch roof, off the ground and out of the rain.

Not that I've got anything against the wild side...

3 comments:

Tabor said...

Here's hoping the next set of mushrooms grows under your protected conditions. Maybe they are wild childs and need an abandoned life style.

R. Brady said...

I'm aiming for more like a cloistered JUMBO monastery...

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