Despite being regarded as the most cultivated and widely consumed mushroom in the world, oyster mushrooms are not always readily available at local grocery stores.
However, those seeking the mild, buttery, earthy flavor to sauté, stir-fry, braise, roast, fry or grill have a chance this month to learn to grow them at home.
K-State Wildcat Extension crop production agent James Coover will be at the Parsons Farmers Market in Forest Park from 3 to 6 p.m. May 18 to demonstrate the process of growing this low-carb, nonfat fungi loaded with vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants.
This is a come-and-go event, free of charge, and everyone will have the opportunity to leave with their own mini-mushroom farm in a bag.
The oyster mushroom gets its name from the shape of its cap and very short stem. They can be a cream-light gray color, yellow or pink.
“There are oyster mushrooms out in nature, but they kind of look like other mushrooms, so we don’t really try to go out and find them. They are not like a morel. A morel looks just like a morel, which is a special mushroom. The oyster mushroom is not as special,” Coover said. “Cultivatedly, though, they are super easy to grow — by far the easiest mushroom we have. They can grow in pretty much anything. You can grow them on sawdust, on straw, on newspaper. If it is something high in carbon, you can grow oyster mushrooms on it.”
Mostly, oyster mushrooms are grown on straw, because it is inexpensive and the easiest to come by.
“And you can grow a lot on one bale of straw,” Coover said.
The process basically is to boil some straw, let it cool and stuff it into a bag with inoculum, which contains mushroom spores that will germinate and grow into mushrooms. The bag is then sealed. There’s little air paths on the bags, so there is some oxygen exchange. For a while, the bag is tucked away in the dark. Over a month, that mushroom inoculum turns white, covering the straw inside. Then the bag is brought into the light, and the fungi begins to grow through holes cut in the bag and the mushrooms cover the outside of the bag. The mushrooms are then cut off, washed and prepared. They can be grown inside a home where temperatures are fairly well regulated.
“If a bag fails, it’s usually because wild mold, a parasitic fungus, gets in there, and it’s green. The chance of success is incredibly high. If it does fail, it will be very obvious. It’s really a pretty safe bet you’ll succeed,” Coover said. “I send some pictures with people so they know what it will look like. It looks like mold, but if it’s white it’s good.”
Coover uses a 55-gallon drum to boil straw. Once at Forest Park, Coover will have boiled straw that has cooled. People will pull some straw off, stuff it into their mushroom bag and pour inoculum in the bag before sealing it up.
“Over a month’s time they will get to watch that slowly fill the bag with the fungal biomass. It’s great for kids because they actually get to watch it change from day to day. It happens in a time frame kids can be interested in it, so it’s a great classroom project,” Coover said. “They can actually watch it do its thing, and at the end of it, kids can eat the mushrooms too. It’s a family-friendly project, I guess you could say. It’s really easy.”
In Asian countries, oyster mushrooms are more common than any other and are widely used in stir-fry recipes.
“We just don’t grow that many around here,” Coover said. “But whatever you do with a button mushroom, you can do with an oyster mushroom. Different oyster mushrooms have different colors and flavors and grow at different temperatures. We’ll be doing the easy one for this workshop.”
Coover said the mushroom tastes like a buttery button mushroom.
“I think they are really good. I think they are better than button mushrooms,” he said. “I like button mushrooms, too, though.”
As people check out all the offerings at the Parsons Farmers Market, he hopes they will stop by his booth and participate in the free mushroom growing workshop. The workshop only takes a short amount of time.
Each month, in cooperation with the Parsons Farmers Market, there will be some type of demonstration or workshop offered by K-State Wildcat Extension Office if all goes as planned. Those will be announced through the Parsons Sun and the Parsons Farmers Market Facebook page.