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Mushrooms are Magnificent

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Spring Volume: 26 Issue: 1(2019) pages: 7 to 9

The most common mushroom worldwide is the button mushroom.that a Chinese poet, Yang Wanli, wrote “After a rain, round mushrooms pop up from the steamy soil...are as sweet as honey,..with a fragrance that lingers between the teeth.” TCM medical practitioners say these mushrooms reduce blood pressure and increase appetite, shrink tumors, help those with hepatitis, and help reduce numbness. Would that these were true.

In the culinary realm, mushrooms are said to be magnificent because they go well with virtually all foods. They do make everything taste better; and should you wonder why, it is because they are naturally loaded with ever so many glutamates that provide umami, the fifth basic sense of our taste buds. The other four, in case you forgot, aref sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. And, f you are Chinese, you need to add another, a taste they call ‘pungent.’

Some describe umami as ‘meaty’ or ‘brothy’ while others call it ‘flavor enhancing.’.’ Matters not what you call it, what matters is that every mushroom has lots of these glutamates. That increase enjoyment of all tastes perceived in your mouth.

You may want to know that more than a hundred countries grow edible mushrooms above ground. Others, we never saw how many that grow them at ground level; and we ask if these man the same thing? Others also grow them under ground. Also, more than twenty different mushroom varieties grow indoors on various kinds of compost or logs they make grinding various woods. These are productive and easily available. If you never grew any, you should try to do so.

Ask my husband, he did so starting a long-term multipple undertaking for the first time when I went to China on sabbatical. To do so, he drilled hundreds of holes in freshly cut oak logs, each a six foot section, then filled them with spores. Next, he needed to cover them with beeswax so the spores would say in these holes. He used a half-inch drill bit and told me it took him days to do so. He did not start small, but wth me away, he figured he has months to complete this task. There were about a hundred logs, and each log needed half that many holes or more; I never counted either. Not sure he did either.

Nxt, he stacked the logs and put a soaker hose on them; this hose came with tiny holes. It kep the sogs wet, used very little water, and was on for about six months. After that, he leaned them alternating them front and back on a thick iron pipe acting as across bar. These he watered about once a week, if it did not rain that week. This he did for a few months. The pictures of them are all that ires left of the hundreds of pounds that developed every fall for some five years. This he did three or four times, and I miss them as we have moved to a facility that does not allow this. Tiny bud-looking items emerged from these logs twice every year, each time for a few months. In the beginning they erupted fro the drilled holes, later from cracks up and down frm most of them.

The logs stayed leaning on those iron cross bars in the shade under other oak trees and we did anxiously, that first year, waited for them to produce, and they did handsomely. Each year we harvested more than the twenty five dollars worth invested waiting for them to produce.

And produce they did. Each small growth grew bigger until a recognizable mushroom appeared. We cut some when small, left some to get big, and some did just that virtually overnight. When a size we appreciated, a thick shiitake we appreciated, we cut the mushroom away from the log and either cooked it fresh or dried it in our electric six layer fruit and vegetable drier rotating the layers to allow them to dry evenly. We stored them in large covered jars in our cool dry basement. These logs did produce for several months every fall when day and might were cool until the logs became spongy. the spores in them no more.

Actually my husband six years later, vut down fresh oak trees, cut them into six foot lemgths, drilled holes again for days but I was not on sabbatical so I watched the process, and we began the stacking, wetting, leaning them on the iron cross bars and other steps until these new logs began growing more shiitake mushrooms for us. We tried oyster mushrooms on composite logs outside and in, but the shiitake spoiled us with huge growths, and after one attempt, ave up and only did the big beautiful Chinese black mushrooms and none others ever again. Fossil records show mushrooms grew more than a million years ago in Asia, China to be specific. One can read about them in Taishang Lingbaozhi Caopin in the closing years of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (circa 420 CE). We also read about them elsewhere discussing their flavor, texture, medicinal, and tonic attributes.

Mushrooms do have unique aromas. They enhance every dish prepared with them.. Restauranteurs and chefs know that fresh ones are tender and easily damaged, and if aroma-free at room temperature, they can be immature or past their prime. That said, do smell them before purchasing yours.

In Asia, many different mushrooms are popular, some enjoyed fresh, others dried, or canned or pickled. Most popular in China are black mushrooms known as black forest mushrooms, fragrant mushrooms, flower mushrooms, Chinese black mushrooms; and called shiitake mushrooms, their Japanese name. Used for thousands of years, they can be produced in a shady area, on logs, easily after setting them up, and productively in a small amount of space. Below we discuss eight common ones you need to know about.

SHIITAKE, botanically known as Lentinula edodes, have been revered there and elsewhere for thousands of years, used for food and for medicine throughout Asia.. We know them well, growing ours in a shady spot in our backyard.

The time consuming part was drilling many holes in freshly cut oak logs after cutting them into three-foot lengths. My husband did that the first time when I was on sabbatical in China with a quarter-inch bit, dozens to every one of these freshly cut oak logs. Then he put spores into each of these holes, and sealed them with beeswax. The logs were stacked, a soaking hose put on them, and kept wet for about six months. Then they went on an iron crossbar, leaned side by side in opposite directions, and watered when no rain did the job about once a week.

For this, we were rewarded with two crops each year after just a few the very first year, then five years of bountiful cuttings. There were lots in the Fall, a smaller batch in the Spring. For these, nature did most of the work, as you can see on this page, and produce they did, more than a hundred pound each year from six dozen logs. All we had to do was cut each mushroom away from its log, remove their stems, and put most in our fruit and vegetable dryer and rearrange its layers to dry them evenly.

We read the spores can also be grown on sawdust logs, but we never tried that as we heard these were not as productive. What also works is growing them on broadleaf tree logs, chestnut, beech, maple, walnut, and similar logs, but with a woods full of oak, we never tried any other logs; no need to.

Cooking and consuming shiitake mushrooms share a long history. There are a few folk who are allergic t them, but we never met such an unfortunate person who suffered stomach aches and fewer from them nor from someone who had a toxic reaction. If you need to purchase ay mushrooms from those who collect them, make sure they are reliable vendors. Never believe anyone who says there are ways to tell good ones from poisonous ones, that is an ‘old wives tale.’ So is saying that you can tell if you cook them with an American quarter and the cash turns black. That is not true.

In Asia and in our home, shiitake mushrooms are food, tonic, and great taste! Our TCM colleagues tell us thay are also used medicinally; we have no knowledge of that.

Every mushroom variety has many different names. One needs to learn them and learn ways to prepare them. Beside great taste, mushrooms are low in fat, have many B vitamins, and very few calories. We used to wash mushrooms but now we simply brush them clean with a specially soft mushroom brush. Then we cut, and cook them, fresh or soaked if dried, for out of season use.

These black forest shiitake mushrooms are most popular in Asia, and are brown when fresh, black when dried The best and most expensive have many cracks, as can be seen on this page, are very expensive, and the most flavorful. All are said to enhance one’s qi, improve immune activity, treat one’s heart condition, and enhance circulation..

OYSTER mushrooms are referred to by many in Great Britain, as ‘shellfish of the woods.’ They are botanically known by many names in the Pleurotus family, and most know they have convex caps and frilly edge. They can be white or colorless, some are gray or pinkish, and newer varieties silver colored or yet newer tints. Their texture resembles their seafood namesakes, are mild and they have a pleasant taste. Best known for their cardiovascular and cholesterol lowering abilities, they also can inhibit tumors and lower locations that raise these problems. However, doing so seems to take time, and TCM practitioners did tell us this requires patience, two or three months needed to do so.

The Chinese use them for joint and muscle relaxation, and they like them as they are easiest to grow at home, are ecxellent blood buildiers and gontain lots of needed amino acids, and reasonable amounts f B vitamins and iron.

PORTABELLA mushrooms, also known as Baby Bella or Crimini, are actually cousins of the common white button mushroom, but tan or brown in color and with a more intense flavor. Botanically known as Agaricus bisporus, they are buttery in texture, and are best cut when closed before they ripen, their gills closed, and covered with a thin veil and hardly visible spores. One writer said they texture of these very expensive mushrooms reminds him of filet mignon, but we find that a stretch; he also says to rinse them, and we say that is a no-no; we barely brush them or wipe ours with a damp papet towel.

These big beautiful, meaty mushrooms are great grilled, broiled, or sauteed, and are a wonderful meat replacer. They are reported to play a role in breast cancer prevention, and in modulating coronary heart disease.

MAITAKE mushrooms, the Japanese say are ‘dancing’ or ‘flying’ in the wind. Probably so said as the overlapping ends of these Grifala frondosa do look that way. Large ones can be as big as old-fashionedsize watermelons, and these frillt mushrooms have an additional moniker of ‘the fungus among us’ thaks t their wild frilly look.

Yes, they are best breaking off pieces of their clumps near their stems, these smaller pieces are then best when cooking them, and said to improve the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Researchers thesedays are tracking their ability to reduce lung, lver, and breast cancer cells as they support general health, attack HIV, ulcers, and other disease-attacking cells. These fungi are immune-enhancing and immune-boosting, and some say the hen-of-the-woods and other varieties should never be washed, just sliced, dusted, and sauteed in oil or another fa, or stewed in any sauce, They are wonderful with eggs, pasta, in soups, and stews, and so one should simply enjoy them for their many health-related benefits that include their few calories, essential B vitamins, and their large number of selenium and potassium components.

ENOKI mushrooms used to botanically be known as Hericium erinaceus but are now more commonly called Flammulina velutipes. These lso called ‘pom pom’ mushrooms these days have long thin stems, white spheres, or balls. Also known as Lion’s Mane, Monkey Head, Hedge Hog, even Old Man’s Beard, many say they taste like lobster, and are best used to treat stomach, n tell us it is best to reduce the humidity of the area they grow in, particularly a few hours before breaking them off for use; if not, they bruise easily..

CLOUD or WOOD EAR mushrooms are botanically known as Auricularia auricula , and TCM practitioners know them to benefit a persons qi, nourish their blood, stop bleeding, and ease pain. There are many look-alikes so they urge us to remind our readers there mushrooms that mimic them and can be toxic, so only purchase them from reputable dealers. He real ones do reduce cholesterol, and when adding sugar, they can reduce diarrhea from a weak spleen, reduce blood in the stool, and are good after childbirth when soaked in vinegar or with honey and brown sugar. Eating these mushrooms can reduce heart disease, reduce atherosclerosis and do likewise to fatty deposits in blood vessels that can cause heart attack or stroke.

LING ZHI mushrooms, also known as the Rei shi mushroom, is hard and woody, and botanically known as Ganoderma lucium. Seen whole but sold when most often powdered, as granules, or as an extract, these fungi are used to treat liver disorders, hypertension, arthritis, relieve heart palpitations, pain, edema, lung disorders, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. and other serious ailments. Originally rare and expensive, now artificially cultivated, accessible, and affordable, their anti-allergic effects lower blood sugar levels, boost immunity, and surround cholesterol in the small intestine preventing its absorption. This general tonic once called ‘phamtom mushrooms’ is now massed produced, easily available, and believed to impat strength, vigor, and longevity.

BAMBOO FUNGUS has since 1984, been bred artificially. It has a net-like vei, and is botanically known as Phallus indusiatus. It was one of three mushrooms reserved for royalty, so several hundred were transplanted to Empress Cixi’s royal garden. However, they produced not a single one, so the Empress was infuriated and ordered the official in charge decapitated; and he was.

Now, they are found dried in cellophane bundles, but that Empress did like hers fresh and with pigeon eggs and called ‘Moon in Gauze.’ No chef we ever talked to had even heard of this dish even when we used the name Bamboo Pith, Long Net Stinkhorn, or Veiled Lady mushroom. We heard they need rich soil and a well-rotted woody location for their growth. We also heard they have been known for teir medical effects since the 7th century CE, that they grow only in tropical areas, attract hundreds of flies and other insects, and are known for their anti-microbial properties.

OVERALL, try the recipes below, and do find others in cookbooks and in magazine articles. These are many in the Vegetable section of the master index on the web site of tis magazine at www.flavorandfortune.com however. Looking for them is a major task as they can be listed under other many headings. Begin by looking for them in the meat, seafood, vegetable and soup sections. Readers tell us they are delightful dishes and have wonderful aroma that will entice all at your table to eat more of your fine hone-cooked dishes. (JMN)

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