Everything Mushrooms gives fungi some culinary props
by Gay Lyons
When I was growing up, the only mushrooms I ever had were slippery things from a can that were not very appealing. When I was in college, I encountered my first fresh mushroomâ"a pan of them, in fact, slowly simmering in butter on a friendâ’s stove. Turns out canned and fresh mushrooms have about as much in common as canned asparagus and the real stuff. Iâ’ve loved them ever since, so I naturally dropped by the fungi-filled world of Everything Mushrooms where I met the storeâ’s owner, self-described â“mushroom nerdâ” Bob Hess.
According to Hess, his retail and wholesale business has existed online ( www.everythingmushrooms.com ) for about five years. He acquired the cream-colored stucco building at 619 Broadwayâ"the one with the arced burglar bars studded with coppery mushroom capsâ"a couple of years ago and opened the showroom this spring.
The showroom, with its handmade wooden tables, refrigerated case, and mini-greenhouse, is sort of a marketâ"with a science lab attached. Or maybe itâ’s the other way around. No matter. Everything Mushroom serves both cook and cultivator.
If your idea of mushrooms is defined by buttons or maybe portabellas, Hessâ’ collection will astound you. All of the mushrooms are dried and sold either packaged or in bulk. Youâ’ll find lobster, porcini, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms; youâ’ll also find more exotic varieties such as velvet top and candy cap as well as several types of morels. If youâ’re not sure what to do with a dried candy cap mushroom, check out the display of cookbooks.
I admired the collection of fungi in large apothecary-type jars, but I admitted to being inexperienced with dried mushrooms. Hessâ’ enthusiasm (and recipe for fried morels) won me over. Dried mushrooms are way more versatile than I thought. Yes, theyâ’ll add woodsy flavor to soups, stews, and sauces, but as the mushroom cookbooks attest, they can also be used in more imaginative ways.
In addition to dried mushrooms, cooks will find mixes for smoked oyster mushroom chowder, dried truffles, and mushroom and truffle oils. For the truly mushroom-obsessed, the shop carries mushroom wine stoppers, mushroom-imprinted note cards, field guides, the weighty, daunting-looking Mushrooms Demystified, and even a coffee table book called Treasures from the Kingdom of Fungi which celebrates the mushroom in its most colorful glory.
And what of the most common types of mushrooms? The button, the portabella, and the cremini? According to Hess, these are the most difficult for the home gardener because they require lots of compost and space. For this reason, they are mostly produced by large commercial enterprises such as the Monterey Mushrooms plant in Loudon. Hess grows the mushrooms for his business in his backyardâ"and so can you.
A mushroom nerd will start with a Petri dish, but most farmers-to-be will start with a kitâ"either a block or a logâ"that has been plugged with mushroom culture.
Commercial mushroom production is a smelly, messy business, but with a jumpstart from the mushroom cultures at Everything Mushrooms, growing mushrooms is as easy as tossing a log in a shady spot or tenting a â“grow blockâ” in a terrarium, a reptile cage, or even a plastic bag. A block kit is slightly less expensive ($19) than a cultured log ($29), and youâ’ll have your first harvest more quickly, but the log will yield mushrooms for four to five years whereas the block lasts three to four months.
Mushroom hunters look for mushrooms in the wild, sometimes seeking ancient mushroom cultures. At www.thegreatmorel.com , â“â’shroomersâ” share photographs of their most amazing finds in a section titled â“Bragging Rights.â” Some hunt mushrooms with the same passion found in bird watchers or orchid growers. Picture the main character from The Orchid Thiefâ"but in a forest instead of a swamp. Bob Hess isnâ’t obsessed, but he is passionate about mushrooms. Be prepared to catch some of his enthusiasm when you stop in for a visit.
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