Monday, December 15, 2008

Plug Spurned!

I guess you could say that sometimes when I sit with my finger on the trigger, ready to make hasty Internet purchases, I can be a little hair-brained.  In this case I had shiitake for brains. Or at least, shiitake on the brain.  Admittedly, the excitement of an Internet deal is often hard for me to squelch.  And in the case of mushrooms (one of my favorite foods) nary can I turn away from the bright LCD screen begging for me to add another item to my virtual shopping cart.  Often times, in these situations, the finger click is followed by the synapse fire.

I had written a couple of weeks ago, hinting at my lust for fungal fare, and mentioned the possibility of growing some shiitake plug spawn.  Plug spawn are small wooden dowels inoculated with spores of whichever mushroom you fancy.  The plugs are about 1/2" in diameter and roughly 1" long.  They are meant to be "plugged" into holes around 2" deep in fresh hardwood logs.  Fresh in our terms means cut no more than 5 months ago.  The reason we need fresh wood is because older wood has had more time to sell its fresh heartwood to the highest bidder, i.e. another fungus.  We don't want to go eating any mushrooms of course without knowing exactly what they are.  And if our shiitake plugs were to mingle with a less than edible sort of mushroom, we'd be deep in the pits of wonderland or worse.  Being in California, I thought that the possibility of finding freshly cut oak logs would be no big deal. Easily done.  Just a phone call, right?  Wrong.  

As it happens fresh oak that has not been promptly chipped, shredded, split, cured, or turned into a piece of flooring is rather hard to come by.  In fact it has been rather consuming to find just what we need at all not to mention without driving all over kingdom come to fetch it.  To add to the frustration of finding the wood, plug spawn are living organisms with a 30 day time limit.  On top of this is the onset of the holiday season and holiday shopping madness.  In short, this has been less than the good time I'd first imagined.  Had I known then what I know now I would have simply continued to grow them from sawdust bags, saving plug spawn dreams for a day when I was huddled in my woodland yurt amidst acres of hardwood trees.   I am unsure just how many times I will have remind myself to always do my research before I let myself be reeled in by the flashy lure of a sale sign.

Alas, we have yet to give up and are still on the hunt for fresh wood.  Like vampire Ents we will not rest until we plug our spawn!  If any of our readership knows of a reliable source of any fresh hardwood please send them to us or us to them.  Any little bit helps.  

Link of the week:
In case you too are interested in growing gourmet mushrooms but want to do it in a much easier and faster way you can usually get bags of impregnated sawdust that produce great results but far less of them.  Before, I'd mentioned Fungi Perfecti, a Washington based company started by one of my personal heroes Paul Stamets.  For a more local source of equally great products go to Far West Fungi .  They are a Bay Area based operation with a store front in the Ferry Building downtown San Francisco as well as market stalls at various farmer's markets and an online store to buy kits and produce.  They all are very helpful and informative.  I buy the bulk of our mushrooms from them every week at the Heart of the City farmer's market in the Civic Center on Wednesdays and Sundays.  Check em out!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wild Leeks

Last Friday, David and I broke ground, so to speak, at our newest garden in the Mission. Conveniently located within a few blocks of our first garden and the restaurants we supply, this space so far has been a dream. It is beautifully sunny, with easy access to water and supplies, and generous homeowners who kindly shared stories and delicious coffee as we went about our first day of work. 
The condition that we found the yard in on our first day was also uplifting. The realtors put down sod just before the house was sold, but then neglected to water it in between owners. So the grass died in the hot sun, leaving behind large strips of soil that effectively kept any weeds at bay and were very easy to remove and carted off to the compost pile. (We thought that we could salvage the grass but unfortunately discovered that it was a little too far gone.)
Perhaps most thrilling, was what we discovered sprouting up all around the graying patches of sod. What looked like sprouts of some particularly invasive grass that I was initially imagining battling all summer, turned out to be ramps; sweet and tender wild leeks. David and I were thrilled- in the northeast, where we are both from, these only appear but once a year, in the early spring, and are gathered in shady groves or along streams, or purchased for a hefty price at the farmers market. The yard was covered in them and, upon our discovery, we started walking gingerly around them, trying not to crush their greens. We harvested a few pounds, which is quite a lot considering their individual weight. We delivered most of them to Weird Fish for a dinner special, and brought the rest to our house for our own dinner. We sauteed them with King Trumpet mushrooms and white wine and served them over some locally made fresh pasta. It was quite a seasonal treat!

Look for them in the coming weeks in Weird Fish specials.