By C. Dennis Pierce
“Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.”
… Paul Stamets
My dog decided that 3:10 in the morning was a great time to go outside and listen to the geese as they land in the nearby reservoir. She cocked her head and stared attentively into the dark as she listened to the geese who were checking in with each other as they settled in the water. I guess they were sharing whether to stay the night or head off to Chesapeake Bay as they headed south. Tinker, short for Tinkerbell, ultimately decided the need to go outside at 3:10 in the morning was a false alarm and she did not have to pee after all and trotted back to the house back to the warmness of her bed.
I should have been upset being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. Actually, not dragged since Tinker is a small terrier but more like licked to death which is her way of saying, “get up buddy I have to go”. As I have gotten older, I find this is not really an inconvenience at all. It provides me with a glimpse of nature that I would have missed. The stillness of the middle of the night is something to experience. During this part of the season which I refer to as the “shoulder season” where fall is here, and it is trying to coax winter into making an appearance. Old man winter is reluctant. He is not ready to make his blustery appearance. He is holding back in hopes of bringing in snow for Christmas or at least much colder, sweater weather. During the middle of the night this time of year you do not hear the crack of the frozen branches in the stillness at 3:10 in the morning nor the soft sound of snow as it falls to the ground. You are only fortunate to listen to the sounds of the honking of geese and an occasional car whose driver is on their way to work to start their milk route for the local dairy.
Over the years I have been fortunate to share the stories from my many interviews with farmers, owners of vineyards, and owners of distilleries. My recent interview which I found educational and interesting was the opportunity to meet Randy Collins and his wife Amada, proprietors of Collinswood Mushrooms in Tolland, Connecticut. Randy was a parcel delivery person and Amanda was studying to be a nurse when they got married. My interview with Randy was an eye opener. Mushrooms have always been a mystery to me. While walking through the many paths in Mansfield and those that are part of Josuah’s Trust, I have seen mushrooms appearing like magic after a few days of rain. So, when I had the opportunity of meeting Randy at the Storrs Farmer’s market, I arranged for an interview to learn more about mushroom farming.
In 2012, while on his route while employed by a delivery service Randy was severely injured as another vehicle failed to provide Randy with the right of way. Randy’s injuries were mostly confined to his legs, but his rehab time was extensive and it was a critical turning point. During this period Randy realized that he needed to find a new path in life and through his research on the internet he came across several interesting articles that shared the knowledge on how to grow mushrooms. While this is a common practice of local farmers where they add inoculated plugs into fallen logs Randy was more intrigued with how to grow with the mycelium growing process in a petri dish. So, you ask what is mycelium? The dictionary defines mycelium as a network of fungal threads or hyphae. Mycelia often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting tree trunks. A single spore can develop into a mycelium. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from mycelium. In my interview with Randy, he shared the in-depth process, where he sources his strains such as one his buys from Mossey Creek farm in Tennessee and begins the growing process in a petri dish. He also shared that in the process of growing mushrooms he is able to create hybrid mushrooms that take on new flavors or should I say shared flavors. I found this interesting. Much like a wine connoisseur describes a bottle of wine, Randy describes the attributes that the various mushrooms offer. The flavor profiles of different mushrooms might have hints of cashews, others were beefy with a slight taste of anise.
Collinswood’s mushrooms have the ability to currently grow up to sixty pounds per week but also has the capacity to grow up to two hundred to three hundred pounds per week. They currently sell to chefs in the Hartford area, and in the Storrs, Ashford, and Tolland farmers market. Their mushrooms can also be found in the Heirloom’s market in Wethersfield. In my conversation with Randy, I was curious on how best to store mushrooms when purchased. Randy suggested that they should be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Never a plastic bag since they are a living organism. Another lesson I learned from Randy was the proper way to prepare mushrooms. I have a culinary background and I can honestly say this was the first time I have ever heard of the dry pan method. The dry pan method is as follows: In preparing mushrooms they should be sliced or quartered as needed for your recipe. Use a heavy pan such as a cast iron pan. Use medium heat to heat the pan. Once the pan is warm add a handful of mushroom making sure not to crowd the mushrooms or they will release too much moisture . The heat of the pan will cause the mushrooms to release the liquid that they hold. This liquid will cook off as the mushrooms brown. Sir occasionally to prevent burning. When the mushroom are brown, they are done. That is the time you can add some butter and salt or garlic. The mushrooms will absorb the added ingredients, soaking up the richness of the butter. These can be added to omelets, or a mushroom quiche or to top off a burger.
Want to learn more about growing mushrooms? Randy follows Eric Meyers’ YouTube channel, Paul Stamets who has several books available and Peter McCoy, whose book is, Radical Mycology. Collinswood Mushrooms specialize in gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that are locally grown in Tolland Connecticut. Randy’s contact information is 860-906-2063 and email@example.com
Several years ago, I was fortunate to introduce Frances Moore Lappe, author of the book Diet for a Small Planet when she came to the UConn Book store while on tour promoting her 20th Anniversary Edition of her cookbook. For those who do not know who Francis is, her book started a revolution in the way Americans eat. The Washington Post stated, “Diet for a Small Planet, holds that universal access to a healthy and sustainable diet provides a global springboard to a better environment, functional democracies, stronger economies and increased social justice. While the concept might seem commonplace today, it was revolutionary at the time. For Lappé, focusing her research on the merits of a plant-centered diet was inevitable, even though she was not herself a vegetarian at that time, because it was clear that growing legumes for consumption was more cost-effective and ecoecoconscious than raising animals for food.”
Over the years I have prepared the following recipe that is in Francis’s cookbook when I had an excess of mushrooms and also when I needed a meal where a vegetarian guest was present.
½ pound of egg noodles (the flat kind). I supposed you can also substitute rice.
1 Tbs. of butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ pound of mushrooms, cut in half
2 cloves of garlic crushed
2 Tbs. of fresh parsley chopped (plus 1 Tbs. if you want to garnish the dish when completed) or 1 Tbs. of dried parsley
3 dashes of Worcester sauce
1 cup of cottage cheese
½ cup of yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare noodles and drain.
Heat butter and sauté onion, mushrooms and garlic until onion is translucent.
Add parsley when onions are almost done.
Stir in Worcester sauce
In a blender or with a hand mixer blend cottage cheese, yogurt and salt and pepper until smooth.
Add heated vegetables to blended mixture
Serve immediately over hot well drained egg noodles.
Garnish with chopped parsley
For those who embrace Nature and the earth’s cycles. You might have missed the viewing of the Beaver moon in the early hours of Monday, November 27th. According to astrologer from The Cosmic Co, Betty Andrews, “This name has its origins in the traditions and practices of some Native American tribes and was later adopted by European colonists. The Beaver Moon is linked to the time of year when beavers begin to take shelter in their lodges, having gathered enough food to last through the winter.” And least not forget Winter Solstices is December 21st. NASA, defines the Winter Solstice, or the December Solstice, as the point at which the path of the sun in the sky is farthest south. At the Winter Solstice, the sun travels the shortest path through the sky resulting in the day of the year with the least sunlight and therefore, the longest night. In the lead-up to the Winter Solstice, the days become shorter and shorter, then on the evening of the solstice from then onwards the days become increasingly long leading up to the Summer Solstice or the June Solstice, and the longest day of the year.
So that ends another year of my Neighbor’s columns. Most of my previous columns can be found online at Neighborspaper.com. My first column was written in March of 2010. Seems just like yesterday. To all that follow my column, Happy Holidays. May the magic of the holidays fill your heart with peace and happiness. Wishing you a joyous holiday season! If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column. Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet. I’ll save you a seat at the table!