Oyster mushrooms (or Pleurotus ostreatus for you Latin types) are preferred by home-growers since they thrive on pretty much any natural material. Dead wood, coffee grounds, grasses, sawdust, and paper products can act as a surface for these fungi to grow on. And they don’t need much water or sunlight, either. The mushrooms can even grow in fluorescent light, reaching full size in as few as five days.
Before being packaged, tiny segments of oyster mushrooms are placed in petri dishes filled with agar, a seaweed-based gelatin that acts as a food source for the shrooms. Thin white threads of mycelium (similar to a plant root) spawn from the mushroom to absorb nutrients for two weeks. The contents are then transferred to a jar filled with rye grains (sterilized to prevent the growth of other bacteria), where the mycelia continue to absorb nutrients for another two to three weeks. In the final stage, the jars are emptied into bags filled with beer grains, wood scraps, and coffee grounds from local cafés for the mushrooms to feed on. “We can turn the waste back into food for the community,” says Pierce.
Here’s how to get shrooming: Open the kit and soak the bag of compost in water overnight. Then put the bag back into the box near a window, if you’ve got one, and mist the bag twice a day. In four to 10 days, the mycelium will sprout little buds that push up through the soil—these become your mushrooms. Each box will yield about two harvests, weighing in at around one and a half pounds of oyster mushrooms. When the final harvest is done, the dirt can be used for compost, the box can be recycled, and the plastic bag is compostable. Oh, and for every kit sold, five trees are planted in Madagascar as part of the Eden Projects foundation.
Cook them shrooms
Generally speaking, mushrooms should be cooked rather than eaten raw, since some have compounds that can make a diner sick—adding heat breaks down those compounds for easier digestion. Harvested oyster mushrooms are good for a few days if stored in paper bags in the fridge (any longer and they’ll dry out). They’re mild and velvety in flavour but have a slightly stronger taste than button mushrooms; in fact, if you sauté them in some butter, they’ll taste a bit like fancy albalone.
Where to buy Fungaea kits ($20)
The Big Carrot, 348 Danforth Ave., 416-466-2129.
Grass Roots, 408 Bloor St. W., 416-944-1993.
Good Catch General Store, 1566 Queen St. W., 416-533-4664.
Evergreen Garden Market, 550 Bayview Ave., 416-596-0404.