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Once you’ve begun to grow mushrooms, you’ll find out how easy they are to cultivate and will likely end up with a bumper crop. This is great because mushrooms can be savored in any number of entrées, from omelets and casseroles to stuffed or beer-battered mushroom appetizers. However if you’re looking to use or preserve your excess mushroom harvest outside the standard culinary use, here are are some fun and inventive ideas to try.
1. Culinary Powders
Powdered culinary mushrooms lend a deep, rich flavor to soups, pastas, casseroles and even breads. Making the powder is easy: Starts by drying your mushrooms in a conventional oven, food dehydrator or solar dehydrator, and then grind them into a powder using a spice grinder or electric coffee grinder.
The most simple, straightforward way to dry your mushrooms is with an electric dehydrator, simply by following the manufacturer’s instructions. If using a solar dehydrator, place thinly sliced mushrooms over the drying screens and leave until crisp. If using your oven, the Colorado State University Extension Service recommends setting the temperature at 140 to 150 degrees F and propping the door open slightly to maintain good circulation and moisture control. Monitor the temperature with a calibrated thermometer. Slice clean mushrooms 1/4 inch thick and place on trays, leaving at least 3 inches of clearance between trays top and bottom. Dry until crisp.
Once dried, break your mushrooms into small pieces, grind them into powder and store in an airtight container. Consider adding a food-grade silica gel packet like the ones that come in vitamin bottles for extra moisture control. You can use a single species of mushrooms for your powder or you can experiment with different combinations to find what pleases your palate.
2. Pickled Mushrooms
Home-canned mushroom pickles make ideal appetizers, salads, snacks and elements for relish trays. A great recipe for Marinated Whole Mushrooms can be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.
If you’re a beginning canner, be sure to read the NCHFP’s instructions for using water-bath canners and “Principals of Home Canning” before getting started.
3. Mushroom Beers and Infused Spirits
Mushrooms can be used to make beer and ale, as well as infused wine and spirits. Tradd Cotter’s book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014) has a full chapter devoted to these earthy delights. One of the easiest recipes is for chanterelle-infused vodka: Simply place whole or chopped chanterelles (or another favorite mushroom variety) in a gallon glass jug until a quarter full, and fill with vodka. Cotter’s wife, Olga, shares the full recipe on her blog. What a unique way to create conversation at your next cocktail party!
4. Homemade Mushroom Paper
This is a great craft project for mushrooms that are more fibrous, such as the medicinal turkey tail. Mycologist Allein Stanleydeveloped the following recipe:
- fibrous mushrooms, such as turkey tails
- recycled papers, colored strips or threads to act as binders and add colorful texture (optional)
- blender (preferably an old one)
- newspapers, rags, towels, old sheeting, old blanket, heavy brown paper or paper towels
- large tray or tub several inches deep
- screen and deckle (This consists of two wooden frames of the same size connected by a hinge. The deckle is an open frame that helps the pulp hold its shape and the screen has fine wire mesh stapled over it. You can make your own or purchase one at a craft store.)
- old iron to speed the drying time of your paper (optional)
Soak the mushrooms overnight. Chop them and place in the blender. Add enough water to make slurry. Add binders, if using. This is not a precise process—experiment to get the best consistency by adding more mushrooms or more water.
Prepare a workstation by laying towels, newspapers or other absorbent materials as listed above under your tray or tub.
Fill your tray or tub with several inches water. Pour the mushroom slurry into the tray of water, and stir to distribute evenly. Place your hands under the water and move from side to side to line up the fibers.
Hold the screen and deckle with both hands, screen side down, and tilt it under the surface. Quickly lift it up underneath the floating slurry. Very quickly tilt in all directions to cover the screen well with the slurry. Dip again if coverage is thin or has holes. Hold the screen and deckle over the tray until most of the water has drained.
Position your hands so that thumbs are underneath and fingers are on top of each side of the screen and deckle. Quickly flip your newly formed paper onto the towel. The screen should now be on top of the paper. Using a damp sponge, carefully wipe the screen to absorb the excess water. Gently lift the screen away from the paper. If the paper has gotten too dry it will tear or the screen will stick to the paper. If this happens, keep the screen on the paper and sponge on more water until the paper releases.
Cover with newspapers or cloths to dry. If you wish to speed the drying process, iron gently over the cover cloth. When your paper is dry enough to handle you can hang it on a clothesline until thoroughly dry or for very flat paper, leave it lying flat and place weights on top. Frequently change the papers or towels beneath until your paper is completely dry.
According to Ms. Stanley, most mushrooms will yield paper with an attractive aroma in shades of tan, which vary from almost white to deep ecru or brown.
5. Freeze to Preserve
One of the easiest and quickest ways to preserve your mushrooms is to freeze them.To maintain quality, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration (Alltrista Corporation, 2002) recommends blanching small, whole mushrooms for 4 minutes and sliced ones for 3 minutes. Prevent darkening by adding 3 teaspoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of a mixture of ascorbic and citric acids mixture per quart blanching water. If you prefer, mushrooms can be sautéed in butter for 3 minutes in lieu of blanching (no need to add the acids). Drain, cool and pack into freezer bags, can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer containers.
In addition to the ideas above, you can also preserve your mushrooms by creating dyes, inks and tinctures. Have fun and be inventive with the fruits of your labor.