One of the great things about owning a small farm is having the opportunity to experiment. The scale of operation is small enough that you can invest a little time/money into a new crop and avoid the pressures from wholesale buyers that want large and consistent harvests. In my case, I have lots of experiments brewing on the homestead, and one of the most successful projects this year has been my Wine Cap Mushrooms.
Wine Cap Mushrooms are known by many common names, including King Stropharia and the Garden Giant, which is a trademarked strain from the wonderful folks at Fungi Perfecti. For you mycologists and botanists out there, the scientific name is Stropharia rugoso-annulata. But when you come to my stand at the market, I’ll call them Wine Caps. The name does some of the work for me, noting the color of the mushroom caps, which range from a wine/burgundy to a golden bronze. The reason these mushrooms may be new to you, is that they are new to many of us farmers too! Unlike the oyster and chanterelle mushrooms that appear at the market as precious gifts from the forest (and the well-guarded secrets of their bearers), my Wine Caps are a cultivated mushroom that live among my young blueberries in a shady part of the homestead. They inhabit a bed of hardwood chips, and after some irrigation and warm weather, they send up their “fruit” in the form of delicious mushrooms that I rush to market for your cooking pleasure.
Now there’s a lot more information to the whole growing aspect than what is worth detailing here. The internet can answer your questions about ideal climate, where to purchase spores, and how they form mutually symbiotic relationships with perennial plants. But what got me growing these beauties is the real bottom line: taste. And in that department, I have not been disappointed. The common description is somewhere between a shiitake and a portabello, which I feel is spot on. Meaty, rich and stocky are good descriptors too. These mushrooms are dense enough to hold up to high heat, making them good candidates for frying, grilling, and long simmers. Try substituting them for shiitakes, baby portabellos, or porcinis in your favorite recipes. You should also try slicing them up, cooking them in butter, and turning them out onto some toast for your initial taste test, and go from there. I also dare you to use the stem. Not as flavorful, but a worthy addition if using in soup or stir fries, and a frugal additive to your stock pot. The rest is up to your imagination, but my last thought is a disclaimer: do not eat these raw, and do not be a glutton for pounds at a time. Overconsumption and and undercooking won’t kill you, but can cause an upset stomach and do warrant your attention, as any new food item should.
Update: Thanks to Portland Farmers Market for featuring the Urban Acre Homestead in their New Vendor Profiles and showcasing my delicious Wine Cap Mushrooms!