NEW BETHLEHEM – The Leatherwood Church table at the Gumtown Community Market along Water Street in New Bethlehem is offering something different to local shoppers this year. While most vendors were selling ready-grown early-season vegetables on Friday, June 7, the church’s mission organization displayed do-it-yourself mushroom-growing logs.
Tracy Calhoun, spokesperson for the church’s Romanian mission-fund trip table at the market, described the process for growing shiitake mushrooms using one of the logs.
“It is pretty simple. The logs have holes drilled in them which are then seeded with mushroom spores. The holes are plugged with a bit of cheese wax to protect the logs from insects, and are ready to take home and stand outside for a few months,” she said.
While standing outside leaning against a building or tree, natural precipitation keeps the logs well-dampened, encouraging the growth of the fungus. Calhoun said that it takes four to six months for the mushroom logs to begin producing a crop. Hobbyists can expect to harvest shiitakes for four or five years.
“Some people are in a hurry,” Calhoun said, “and shock the logs into earlier production by pre-soaking the log in a tub of water for a few hours.”
For those not familiar with shiitake mushrooms, she said that they are chewier in texture when compared to the familiar button mushrooms sold in most supermarkets. They do not have quite the same meaty qualities as portabella mushrooms but still give a robust touch to dishes containing them.
Shiitakes originated in East Asia and are used in the cuisine of many countries. Cultivated for centuries for their medicinal qualities, they have gained a devoted following among Western cooks in the past 30 or 40 years.
Fortunately for Western Pennsylvania residents, shiitakes like the region’s growing conditions. Mushrooms grow best when temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making them a good spring crop. If a rare drought occurs, misting the spore-laden logs by hand will meet their moisture requirements.
Calhoun said that the Leatherwood Church’s mission group will continue selling them at the farmers market throughout the summer months. The price per log is $20, with price breaks for buying several of them. Those new to growing shiitakes also receive an informative pamphlet outlining cultivation requirements.
The mushroom logs are one of several fundraising projects carried on to fund the church’s mission work in Romania.
The Gumtown Farmers’ Market is in operation every Friday from May through October between 12:30 and 5 p.m.