"Mushrooms are notoriously unreliable to grow, partly due to the mass-produced low quality kits that people often try." Adam Sayner - Grow Veg
Well no more according to the ABC's Landline which recently focussed on a young Brisbane couple growing exotic mushrooms for sale and making mushroom kits in their suburban back yard. I was pointed to this particular Landline program after my recent post on mushrooms, by one of my loyal readers. Thank you Graham. Sorry it's taken me a few days to get to it. Sorry as well that I'm not continuing with Jerusalem today. My proposed post requires more thought than I'm up to today.
Ok - mushroom kits. I have only once tried a mushroom kit - for ordinary button mushrooms that I probably bought in Bunnings or somewhere similar, with so-so results I think. I did get some mushrooms, but I vaguely remember not as many as I thought I would. And I have to say I'm still a little dubious about how many one would actually get. The Little Acre website seems to infer that you would get two crops - if you are really lucky, then maybe three. At left is a picture of what you can expect. Now how many would you say you have there? Maybe 500g? Mushrooms don't weigh much do they. So maybe a kilo or so in total? Which I think is actually fair enough because they only provide kits for oyster mushrooms - white, pink or pearl, at $35.00 a kit (plus delivery I guess) and Coles is currently selling white oyster mushrooms at $33.34 per kg. So maybe a little more expensive, but then you don't have the fun of growing them with the Coles ones. The plus side for Coles being that you only need to buy as many as you need when you need them, rather than getting a whole lot when you are maybe not expecting them.
However, selling mushroom kits is not the only thing this enterprising young couple do.
Their story begins with the gift of a growing kit which they ignored for a bit, but then grew, and were so impressed that they were captivated. Mickey Pascoe has a background in marine biology and natural resource management and now works full time in the business. His partner Amy Christensen is a graphic designer, and still works in this field on a very part-time basis because she spends a great deal of time helping out with the whole spectrum of tasks involved.
I think initially they just grew mushrooms for sale to restaurants and farmers markets type of outlets, but they then moved into the mushroom kits. The business grew, from the only air-conditioned space in their rented home, to currently four containers in their back yard. Four containers takes up a lot of space and so I am not sure whether they are still in the same premises. You would need quite a large backyard to accommodate them. And on Landline Mickey says that they are now at the point of needing to expand again. And this is in spite of COVID19 reducing their restaurant sales by 86%. So now they are concentrating on the growing kits and also on masterclasses, both online and face to face - well more online at the moment.
The mushrooms they sell wholesale are only available in the Brisbane and south east Queensland area - so we won't be seeing any of their other exotic mushrooms down here. The other mushrooms they sell include the king brown oyster, chestnut, lion's mane and a gold oyster mushroom. I have to say they look stunningly beautiful.
As a kind of an aside, one of the places they supply with their mushrooms is another innovative small-scale business - a small market garden on the outside of Brisbane - so another suburban business, where two young men, one full-time and one part-time, grow a mix of vegetables, which are sold at a roadside stall. One of their aims is to show people that food can be grown even in urban areas on a large enough scale to sell commercially. They certainly seemed to have a lot of customers - all appropriately queueing 1.5 metres apart in the video.
I wondered whether this was just one lucky company that had been chosen by the ABC as a focus and looked for other mushroom kit suppliers but could only find one other Australian company - easily anyway - called Aussie mushroom supplies. Now they are in Victoria - Carrum Downs to be precise, which is another outer suburban area. They have been going longer, since 2007, but also claim to be a family business. However, I cannot find out more about them, and since they show the now defunct Masters stores as one of their outlets one also has to wonder whether they are still in business. They are larger though, have many more kits, ranging in price from the mid $20 range to almost $50 - depending on size and type. Now whether they qualify as those mass produced kits derided by the man from Grow veg I don't know, but they do sell all the equipment you might need if you decided to grown your own mushrooms from scratch. And the article in Grow Veg quite appealingly told you how, using spent coffee grounds. Although he does say:
"Now, it must be said that growing your own mushrooms is definitely more difficult than growing nearly any other crop if you use the standard methods." Adam Sayner - Grow Veg
He maintains it's easier to grow them in coffee grounds rather than any other medium which would have to be sterilised. Also much more environmentally attractive of course. You need around 2.5 kg for 500g of mushroom spawn.
I am unfamiliar with oyster mushrooms. All the gourmet opinion seems to be that they are very tasty, as well as being beautiful, with the King Brown Oyster mushrooms being the top of the tree I think.
I'm not sure what makes these an oyster mushroom as they look very different in shape to the other ones. And speaking of trees - that's what they grow on in the wild. And I think the wild means in warmer climes than here in Victoria.
So having acquired your oyster mushrooms somehow, what can you do with them? I fear those beautiful kits may not be available for delivery down here in Victoria, so you will have to buy them from a market or your local supermarket - and the local supermarket will only have the white ones and the king brown ones. Farmers markets and the Queen Vic market are potential sources for them though.
It was recommended that you cooked them rather than eating them raw in a salad, with Yotam Ottolenghi advising:
"Tear, shred or mince them before subjecting them to searing heat and lots of oil both to stop them from going sloppy-squidgy and to ensure you get that full-on, delicious, mushroomy umami delight."
It has to be said that most of the recipes I found tended to be Asian influenced - the Europeans are rather more focussed on girolles, morels, and porcini and the pink ones seem to be the preferred option too. Here's a selection of what I found from various known chefs: Oyster mushrooms, thyme and pancetta, from Nigel Slater, Confit oyster mushrooms with lemon aïoli from Yotam Ottolenghi, Asparagus wok tossed with oyster mushrooms
and Green beans stir fried with oyster mushroom and garlic (dau que xao nam bao ngu) from Luke Nguyen - typical stir fries and pretty simple, Stir-fried oyster mushroom broth - a complicated cheffy production from Raymond Blanc and what should be simple but looks very glamorous Mushrooms on toast from Serge Dansereau
I'm not sure about the last two but the others all look pretty tempting.
It's always very refreshing to see young people throwing themselves into enterprises like this. None of them came from farming families, and yet they were enthusiastic, innovative and making a success of it. I do hope they continue to do so.
And I might have another go at a kit sometime. Bunnings don't seem to have any at the moment, which is a bit odd as you would think that now would be the time.