Three years ago we bought shiitake mushroom spawn. The instructions recommended hardwood, specifically oak, as a substrate. Biking around town we found an oak tree chopped into logs on someone’s lawn. We knocked on the door, obtained permission from a renter cranky with his landlord for not cleaning up the mess, and came back to pick up several.
At home, we drilled appropriate sized holes for the plugs, pounded them in with a hammer, and sealed them by pouring melted food-safe wax over the holes. And we waited. And waited. And waited.
This spring, for the first time, we saw a mushroom ‘flowering’ on one of the logs. It bloomed, and became quite large by the time I finally picked it to ID.
Mushrooms can kill you. Quickly, or, perhaps worse, slowly. But they can also be nutritious and delicious. Although it was highly likely that our mushroom, growing from the wood we inoculated, was shiitake, I wanted to make sure that anything else it could be wasn’t going to kill us.
So out came the ID books. Fortunately I have three – very useful for cross-referencing. Only one of my books includes shiitake, Lentinus edodes, because it is a cultured fungus that grows wild in Asia.
An important identifier is spore colour. For me, it is the hardest part because it requires patience. After an hour, I didn’t see much on my piece of white paper. Either there weren’t any spores, or they were white. After leaving the cap gill-side-down overnight (I wanted to be sure), I had a thick haze of white spores covering the glossy black book I had set the cap upon.
I keyed out our mushroom in David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified – the book that included L. edodes. Check-mark.
How I love dichotomous keys. But they don’t answer every question. If your specimen is not included in a particular key, you will land elsewhere. Which may mean trouble. Luckily, in my other two books, I landed among edible mushrooms; ‘Miscellaneous light-spored gilled mushrooms in Arora’s All That the Rain Promises and More…, and Neolentinus ponderosus and N. lepideus in Falcon’s North American Mushrooms.
So we ate it for breakfast. Sauteed in butter, folded into eggs scrambled with fresh arugula and chives from outdoors, and a bit of leftover chevre.
After all that it turns out I am not a fan. Pretty strong taste. There are wild mushrooms that I have loved, so I am not giving up entirely on the effort, but I may give away the next L. edodes that fruits from our log. Meanwhile I need to become a morel-hunter. And Agaricus augustus. And Lepiota rachodes. Yum.