The Bunkycooks were just a wee bit curious about mushrooms back a few months ago. I was looking for some wild mushrooms to make a few dishes and I wasn’t brave enough to pick some of the ones growing in the woods. You just don’t know which ones are safe to eat and what might happen to you if eat the wrong ones.
So, off we went in our gas guzzlin’ RV for another On the Road adventure to speak with a mushroom farmer and learn more about mushrooms and how they grow! Maybe he could talk to us about the edible ones versus the mushrooms that might put a bit more punch in my dishes than I was looking for! 😮
We traveled to visit with Fred Treadway at his farm outside of Asheville in Madison County, North Carolina. Fred told us that when he moved back to North Carolina in 1995 that he wanted to do something very different. He likes to take on new projects and never do the same thing twice. So, after owning a hardware store in Louisville, Kentucky for many years as well as managing a drive-in theater (what is that you ask?!), he went to a workshop on mushroom farming and decided to take on this hobby.
Fred primarily grows Shiitake mushrooms, but also grows some Oyster mushrooms along with the Shiitakes. In his seven years of mushroom farming Fred has become quite the rock star. He has had a couple of interviews published as well as having a video clip made of he and David Kendall from the Madison County Extension Office.
Fred, who is 75 years old and farms 89 acres of land, could run circles around me and Mr. Bunkycooks. Now, of course, that isn’t quite fair right now with my surgery and boot, etc., but my bet is he could do it on any given day! He prefers walking to riding around the farm in his four wheeler and I am sure that is one of the reasons he is in such great health. Me…I’d take a spin in the four wheeler, although the day we visited, we walked right along with Fred.
I think Fred is also in such great shape because he carries around all of these heavy logs that the mushrooms grow on! Fred raises more than mushrooms on his farm and puts up many vegetables that he and his wife will use during the Winter. He prefers the freshness of his own canned vegetables (and I can certainly understand that).
When Fred started mushroom farming (about seven years ago), he began with fifty logs. By the second year he had a couple hundred logs. He now has over eighteen hundred logs for his mushrooms! That’s a lotta logs and a whole bunch of mushrooms! That number of logs will yield about four to five hundred pounds of mushrooms each year. He says it is a hobby that got out of control. Do you think?
Fred has been asked to speak with many younger farmers who are looking at getting into mushroom farming as more people are growing their own foods and wanting to supply produce to local businesses and Farmers’ Markets. Fred seems to be quite successful at mushroom farming, so I can see why they are contacting him.
I was not familiar with the process of how mushrooms are grown (except for the ones I have seen in the ground), so I was quite fascinated with the process of how they grow on the logs. He had so many mushrooms growing, I think they were Happy Mushrooms! (no…not that kind of happy!).
If you are not familiar with how mushrooms are farmed on logs, here is a brief lesson. Fred has an area in the woods on his farm that is shaded and damp and he has stream that runs through there to keep things moist.
He soaks all eighteen hundred logs beginning in the Spring and then will repeat this process every two to three months to keep them moist throughout the growing season. They will sit in a tank full of fresh water for twenty-four hours.
The next process is incredibly tedious. There are forty holes drilled into every log in a particular pattern. Spawn (mushroom spore mixture) is placed in the holes with a plunger. It is then sealed with cheese wax. This becomes the root system for the mushrooms. The logs are then placed in the moist, wooded area. If it is colder weather, he will cover them.
In three to four days (and even faster when it’s warmer) Voila! you have baby mushrooms. They will get cut from the logs once they are fully grown. This process will continue until November.
In addition to the Shiitakes, Fred grows some Golden Oysters which are from Asia (the White Oyster Mushrooms are American in origin). He says that they have only a 1-2 day life, so they need to be cut from the logs quickly.
He also has some wild Turkey Tail Mushrooms that pop up in the Spring. You can pour boiling water over these to make tea and they do have some medicinal benefits. Fred also likes Blue Tree Mushrooms and Grey Doves (they will grow wild in October and November).
The Shiitake Mushrooms that Fred grows are sold primarily to one restaurant in Asheville and the rest he will use or sell at local Farmers’ Markets.
We had such a delightful visit with Fred and would like to thank him for taking the time to show us around his farm. It was truly fascinating and I understand why he has become one of the sources to go to when new farmers are interested in gaining knowledge on this topic. I would also like to thank David Kendall for putting me in touch with Fred. Mushroom farmers can be a bit elusive, so I was thankful that we were able to get to visit with one!
Well, as you might guess, I love mushrooms…all sorts of mushrooms. Some of them are very expensive mushrooms (Chanterelles, Truffles, Morels, etc.) and therefore, do not appear at the Bunkycooks on a regular basis. One of my favorite ways to prepare wild mushrooms is to sauté them with olive oil, butter, garlic, thyme and sherry. It is perfect to serve alongside a great steak.
You can also whip up a Morel Sauce to serve with a steak (now we’re talking sexy food). We had some beautiful photographs of these sautéed mushrooms, however, they have gone missing from our catalog become elusive just like the mushroom farmers!
My other favorite way of preparing wild mushrooms, especially this time of year when I want heartier, rich dishes is Wild Mushroom Risotto. This can be served alone as a main dish or you can prepare it as a side dish. The richness and full flavor comes in part from Homemade Chicken Stock, so I suggest you do not skimp on that. Be sure to use a really good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It is also critical to the success of the dish and the flavor is incomparable.
Risotto takes some time to stir to get the proper consistency, but when it is creamy and full of flavor, there is nothing more satisfying, especially on a cold Winter’s night with a really nice bottle of red wine! We served ours with a lovely Brunello. I made my risotto with an equal amount of Yellow Foot Mushrooms, Shiitakes and Crimini Mushrooms. Any combination will do, but I would definitely suggest using some Shiitakes and Criminis because of their hearty texture.
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3 as a Main Dish
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, bruised
1 pound fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced (I used Yellow Foot, Shiitake and Criminis)
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced sweet onion (Vidalia or Walla Walla)
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used a French Chablis)
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Chopped chives or chopped Italian Parsley, as a garnish
Cover the bottom of a large skillet (12-inch) with approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic cloves and heat over medium heat until garlic is fragrant and oil is hot, but not smoking. Remove garlic cloves. Add mushrooms. Lightly season with Kosher salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until mushrooms are just tender and lightly browned. Set aside.
To a risotto pan or medium saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add onions, lightly season with salt. Cook until they are translucent, stirring frequently, about five minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with olive oil. Continue to stir and cook for about two minutes. Add white wine, stirring and cooking over medium to medium-high heat until wine is absorbed.
* You may need to adjust your heat during this process of adding liquids, depending on the type of pot and your heat source. You do not want the rice sticking as you cook it and the liquids absorb.
Add one cup of the chicken stock, stirring frequently, until the stock is absorbed. Repeat this process with the stock two more times. You will have one cup of stock left. This will take some time, so be patient. Add the last cup of stock and stir. Add reserved mushrooms and cook until rice is cooked, yet firm to the bite (al dente) and the mixture is creamy.
Remove from the heat and add the butter and cheese. Stir to combine. Check for seasonings.
Serve immediately, garnished with either chopped chives of parsley, if desired.