The Birds, Bees and Mushrooms, Please
The trend in club food and beverage to cultivate home-grown goods on club property has become anything but garden-variety. While a simple kitchen herb garden was once a nice little addition and talking point for a club’s F&B program, some chefs are taking on literal earth-shaking initiatives to create a buzz for fresh ingredients grown on the home turf. Not only are chefs helming scratch kitchens and tending vast raised-bed kitchen gardens producing dozens of varieties of fruits, herbs, edible flowers and vegetables, they’re introducing beehives for honey production and pollination. They’re developing composting programs in the kitchen to help mitigate food waste and create natural fertilizer for the gardens from vegetable trimmings and coffee grounds.
Some club chefs have spread their wings into the realm of animal husbandry with the addition of flocks of egg-laying heritage hens. These efforts appeal to more diverse memberships who place a high value on local food and sustainability, follow the latest restaurant trends and who have greater demands and expectations in modern dining. Proprietary goods gathered, grown and germinated on club grounds give high profile cred to a club’s F&B brand.
With ample on-site acreage, many clubs have a unique opportunity to make use of unengaged soil and tree-shaded spaces in even more FUNdemental ways. Small-scale edible mushroom (fungi) production is another ecological endeavor worth exploring. Mushroom growing is a project that requires very little by way of time and material and small yields are easily manageable. After some initial prep, planning and consideration of cultivating space, natural processes take charge and soon reap myriad benefits. From the pleasures of cooking and eating specialty fungi, mushroom growth also creates more moisture retention capabilities and fertilization to soil as mycelium (the vegetative body for fungi that produce mushrooms) spreads into the landscape, and also increases runoff filtration, critical to protecting watersheds.
When RCS was given the opportunity to learn about the particulars of growing specialty mushrooms, we headed off to the homestead of Michael Judd, the founder of Ecologica and Project Bona Fide, a non-profit supporting agro-ecology research, to gain hands-on experience in fungus cultivation. During our visit we focused on cultivating shiitake and oyster mushrooms on forest logs. Our-low tech supply list included some 6x40 inch oak logs, a drill, a hammer, melted cheese wax (paraffin or bees wax is also fine), a crockpot, a cotton dauber and mushroom spawn. Mushroom spawn are available through garden, farm and forestry supply companies. The spawn or seed (think of it as a sourdough starter) is spores of mushroom growth, shiitake and oyster strains in our case, started on wooden pegs or plugs. Our oak logs were freshly cut winter wood, left to cure for about three weeks on the forest floor, with thick bark that will maintain moisture and help ensure mushroom production for up to eight years.
We proceeded to drill inch-deep holes in a diamond pattern about six inches apart all over the log, just below the protective bark. After hammering the spawn plugs into the holes we dabbed the plugged spots with hot wax creating a seal that keeps moisture within the log. From here it was time to relocate the inoculated logs to a moist shady place around our land to let the spawn colonize each log, a process that takes anywhere from six to eighteen months. We learned that mushrooms need a lot of the same thing to thrive: moisture and more moisture! When the logs fruit, we’ll cut the mushrooms off at the base and cook them in some sort of delicious preparation, then wait for the next harvest.
Meantime, we won’t just be sitting around like a bump on a log, we’ll be testing and tasting mushroom recipes. So why wouldn’t your culinary team want to explore the world of mushroom cultivation and add a little FUN to your club’s homegrown enterprises? We’re stumped.
Photo Credit: This Healthy Table
Shiitake and Oyster Mushroom Tarte Tatin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound mixed shiitake and oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped shallots
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup fresh chopped thyme
1 sheet puff pastry
4 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Heat olive oil over medium heat in saucepan.
Add shallots and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the garlic and let cook for another minute, and then add the mushrooms. Let mushrooms and shallots cook for another 5 minutes or so allowing them to develop a nice brown color. Add the wine and reduce the liquid by ¾. Stir in the tomato paste and thyme; season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Remove the pot or pan from the heat and spread the shallots and mushrooms out evenly to cool. Generously butter a 9-inch cast iron skillet. Arrange the mushroom mix on the bottom of the pan. Cut pastry sheet to 2 inches larger than diameter of pan, then gently lay across mushrooms in pan and tuck into sides. Prick pastry with a fork 8 to 10 times, to allow for some air venting.
Bake for 25 minutes until pastry is golden brown and puffed. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then carefully invert onto a plate. Garnish with watercress and honey-drizzled burrata.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.