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Florida-fresh mushrooms: Delicious, weird, and healthy

First it was toilet paper, then hair dye, now mushrooms. Mushroom sales have gone up while people are staying at home and cooking more. Healthy and flavorful, mushrooms are an excellent source of protein, vitamins B and C, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and the only edible non-animal source of vitamin D. Many mushrooms are high in antioxidants, and contain substances that can reduce cancer, boost the immune system, and reduce coronary heart disease.

Florida-grown mushrooms are available year-round because they are mostly produced indoors with light and climate control. Large-scale growers supply common types like button, portabella and shiitake. Specialty small-scale producers grow unique and tasty mushrooms that you are unlikely to find in grocery stores, like trumpet, lions mane, and black pearl.

Growing, hunting, and buying mushrooms

You can easily grow your own mushrooms at home with prepared kits; oyster mushrooms are the simplest type to grow. If you want a more intensive hobby or want to grow various types of mushrooms, you can learn the science of mushroom cultivation. Being a mushroom grower involves generating your own mushroom spawn, sterilizing growing material, creating an incubation chamber, and sometimes making a giant, smelly, inedible mess of it all.

Foraging mushrooms from the forest has become a popular pastime of those with survivalist spirits and a desire for free, unique food. Sounds fun, right? Consider the following before you go mushrooming in the wild: 1) Identifying mushrooms is not easy, and edible species can be confused with toxic species. 2) Our human populations and urban areas are growing, and our natural landscapes are shrinking. This means that people can have significant negative impacts on natural biodiversity if we remove native living species from their ecosystems.

After attempting mushroom growing myself, with varying levels of success, I’ve decided I would much rather support local farmers who have perfected fungi cultivation. Jon Martin is Osceola County’s local mushroom grower, offering home delivery, do-it-yourself mushroom kits, and other mushroom resources through his online store.

Eating mushrooms

Know how to prepare the mushroom you’re working with; mushroom flavors, textures, and preparation techniques are highly varied. Some mushrooms must be eaten right away, while others can keep for weeks in the fridge, or even be dried or frozen. Some mushroom stems are tender and yummy, while other types of mushrooms have chewy stems that are better used to make stock. Luckily, endless recipes are available online. My favorite pandemic comfort food I’ve made so far is Mushroom Pasta: Sautee onion, garlic, lots of mushrooms, and some zucchini or fresh spinach. When veggies start cooking down, add a splash of white wine and herbs (my favorites – fresh thyme, parsley, rosemary). Finish cooking and throw it all on top of your favorite cooked pasta. Add Parmesan if you want. Eat, be happy.

Learn more about growing and eating mushrooms. For information on farming and home gardening, contact the University of Florida IFAS Extension-Osceola County: 321-697-3000.

Photo: Florida-grown specialty mushrooms by fungijon.com

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