Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pheasantback Mushrooms!

As promised, here's my play-by-play of how to prep Pheasantback mushrooms. But first, a few specific stats about them:
  • It's hard to mistake another mushroom for a Pheasantback, no other mushrooms really look like them, so you're pretty safe. If you've never foraged for or eaten a pheasantback mushroom, then you should double check with a knowledgeable mushroom person or field guide to mushrooms to make sure you've got what you think you've got.
  • They are also called Dryad's Saddle.
  • They grow from May to November, but their main season in May.
  • They are found mostly on dead deciduous wood - particularly poplar, maple, willow or birch.
  • Some folks think they smell like watermelon rind.
This is the top view of the mushroom.

This is the side view - they attach to the side of a tree trunk, and grow outwards from it like this.
I had a nice harvest of around 5 pounds or so.
First step, cut up the mushrooms and discard the stump where it attached to the tree - this is very tough.

You very often discard around half of the mushroom - the tenderest parts are the outside edges. Once I had prepped the mushrooms, I had about 2# left to work with.
Next step - peel off the top "skin" of the mushroom - is very tough and chewy to eat if you leave it on.
Next step (normally a no-no with mushrooms), I wash thoroughly with the sprayer in my kitchen sink. These mushrooms are polypores, so there's lots of little holes for critters to hide in. This cleans them out nicely.
Drain pore-side down, then press them with another towel on top so that the water can drain out - you want to get as much out of it as possible.
A view of the underside - a perfect polypore!
After the squeezing, I prep the mushroom by chopping into bite-size squares.
I have a pan on med-high with olive oil and melted butter.
I cook to get the water out, and as soon as the steaming cooking sound gives way to a frying cooking sound (sizzle), the mushrooms start browning. I add chopped garlic at this point along with a little salt and pepper. I cook it down for quite some time - I want all the pieces to become browned bits.

And so, after patience, I have nicely browned mushroom bits! I drain on paper towels and then add to stir fries, pizza, or anything that wouild complement the flavor of pheasantbacks. After cooking it like this, and letting it drain, they're a little crispy and I think they taste like crispy fried chicken skin!

Some things to think about:

  • Make sure you've squeezed the fresh pieces out really good - the less water the better!
  • Resist the temptation to turn the heat up too high - a slow fry is what's called for here - you don't want to burn the garlic!
  • You could add a splash of wine at any time in this process. Wine, garlic & mushrooms is a classic combo for a reason - it's delicious!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Grafting Tomatoes

After much debate we decided to go through with it and graft tomatoes this past Thursday. Mara attended the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association farmers conference this past December, and learned a lot about grafting. We decided it would be a good idea because we are focusing more and more on heirlooms (which are so much more susceptible to diseases), and decided that we should take a leap and see how it works. Under the tutelage of the able-bodied grafters at Intervale Community Farm, Keri (l), and Becky (r), we grafted 1/2 of our expected tomato crop this year - hopefully all the grafts take and we have more tomatoes than ever. The idea with grafting tomatoes is to use an extremely hearty rootstock (we chose MaxiFort from Johnny's Seeds Company) and graft it to a tomato that is not so hearty to infuse the plant with more disease resistance and larger, more vigorous plants. We'll see how it goes! We are trying to have a grafted tomato of one variety and a non-grafted tomato of the same variety next to each other in our field hoophouse so that we can see if it was worth all the stress. Should be interesting! We are really curious. For now, we wait while the grafts take root. Suspense!

Spencer creates our super-high-tech dark incubator from cardboard - his preferred building medium.

Spencer takes a picture of Mara attempting a "cleft" graft - not the clear winner for ease and speed, it turns out. Oh well, it was our chance to try different techniques and see what works best. Turns out the "tube" graft is MUCH faster and feels more secure.
Securing the graft for clipping...

Clipped and labeled grafts.
Spencer with a misted high-dome covered grafted tray ready for the incubator.

Our high-tech incubator hard at work! We placed it under a greenhouse table in a boot tray. We'll check on them on Tuesday and slowly re-acclimate them to the sunlight and normal ambiance. Then, the survivors will be transplanted to 4" pots, THEN, we'll move them to the field (of course, after the favas come out of the field house! They're flowering right now - pictures to come!).

The glory of landscape fabric!

Well, well, well! A long-imagined weeding solution has become a reality this week! While working on weeding last summer, we were envisioning how we could possibly eliminate a portion of our weeds. One idea that came up was landscape fabric; also known as weed mat, or weed barrier. It's often used by folks in mum production. We looked into it, and with the various lengths and widths it came in along with its' longevity (lasts at least 5 years), was the clear winner. Not to mention that it covers paths - the bane of our existence last year! You'd think with all the trampling, weeds wouldn't grow so much in pathways - the opposite, however, is true. So, we have sought out a solution - and so far, we are pleased with the results. Pictured here is our swiss chard crop.

Our field we're working on is 234' long, and we were able to purchase 15' by 300' sheets that are marked every 12", so this seemed to be the perfect size for 2 people (and 2 dogs) to roll out.

We marked the holes with a propane torch and a 100' marking tape.

Spencer marking holes with the propane torch. It took only 15 minutes to do each bed.

Mr. Smeems loves the landscape fabric - it heats up nicely in the sun, one of the many benefits.

And so, the transplanting begins! Spencer catches this nice in-flight artichoke going into the fabric.

All of the brassicas are in! De Cicco sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, and romanesco cauliflower.

Everything in this section is in! I wish I would've gotten a picture of Spencer laying in one of the rows - he said; "Just think, we can lay out and stretch our backs without getting dirty now!"

This quip was quickly followed by the realization that not only would we be not getting dirty in our loafing moments, but we would also not be weeding these paths! Success at last! More to come on this subject as the season progresses - we'll see if it's all we've cracked it up to be! So, we transplanted everything in this section out and then hand watered with a hose and wand - to be replaced this week by drip irrigation. We were happy to see that the plants didn't get as hot on a sunny day as they normally do on black plastic or biomulch; probably due to the permeability of the woven plastic nature of the landscape fabric. More as we learn!

Up next: a pictorial essay of how to use pheasantback mushrooms (aka Dryad's Saddle) - very in-season and readily available to all trail walkers this time of year. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Greenhouse Craziness

After 2 solid months in the greenhouses, we have begun to feel like we don't even have a farm - we're just greenhouse workers! Today, however, we finished the last potting up of our offerings for Gardener's Supply Company and Four Seasons Garden Center - a major turning point in our season, where our energy shifts from the greenhouse work to field work. That's not to say the greenhouse work is not fun - it offers a nice flow to the early season. We spend our time seeding, potting-up, hardening off the plants in a cold frame, and then transplanting them to the field. It's always nice to look at our carefully constructed seeding plans, and realize that because we've followed the plan all along, we actually have the correct number of plants at the right time.
The field hasn't been completely neglected, as you can see from previous posts, it feels like we really haven't spent much time out there for an entire week. We also had our first farmers' market this past weekend! We had fantastic weather, plenty of happy customers, and we got to share our amazing microgreens, broccoli raab, and some of those greenhouse-grown plants with everyone! What a great first market! We're officially off to a great market season!
To drag on a theme, we've also been trying to get off a little early at the farm so that we can go home and garden. Yep. We've tilled up our backyard and are planting a giant herb garden. We've had far too many occasions where we've forgotten herbs at the farm and are faced with an herb-less meal, or (gasp!) buying herbs from the store rather than driving all the way back to the farm! We've probably gone overboard, but it's fun and it's a great way for us to use up all sorts of composted microgreens soil that we've been storing at the farm for a year, old straw for mulching our beach-like sandy soil, and yet another chance to over-engineer an irrigation system. Our neighbors look on with interest and offer to take photos of the progress. It appears that we can't get enough of digging in the dirt!
This week we're working on laying landscape fabric in our constant efforts to find ways to beat the weeds. We'll be using the fabric for long-term crops. Also, we will be transplanting brassicas, chard and artichokes. We'll mow down our cover crops and mow down the dandelions (now that we've harvested enough for dandelion wine!). Salud!