Planet of the Mushrooms

by Steve Gerkin


When the tree leaves turn, some folks think of foliage tours. But Oklahoma foodies and chefs look earthward for the real fall treats: Mushrooms. Although examples of these edible fungi are available most of the year, we tend to think of them as a fall sport. There are those gastronomes that don’t need deciduous forests or seasonal changes to enjoy this meaty, flavorful treat. They just need resources that provide nature’s hidden treasure.

Preferring forests and frequent rains, mushrooms like Oysters, Chanterelles and the treasured Morels thrive in the green hills of eastern Oklahoma. Surprisingly, other varieties are flourishing where the sun don’t shine. Shittake, oysters and other mushroom varieties find indoor settings favorable for cultivation. Indoor mushroom farming is a burgeoning adventure, and there are groups of organic-minded farmers scattered all over the state.

Two such people are Tulsans Sharon and Rich Hewitt. Together, they own Mushroom Planet. Certified organic by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, these indoor farmers have amazed shroomers for over a decade by providing a variety of world-class mushrooms that grow in the friendly confines of their seventy square foot, environmentally-controlled basement farm. You can grow them on wood chips, straw, and even on toilet paper called Tee Pee Farms. The Hewitt “shroomery” located just north of downtown Tulsa is free of the usual farm pests, birds and unpredictable weather patterns. No tractors, no fertilizers and no traditional soil are part of their endeavor. Instead, there’s sawdust. As a basis for indoor agriculture, mushroom farmers reclaim this waste product by using it as their soil. The Hewitts seed a hard oak sawdust block with mushroom mycelium, turning each block into its own farm. They carefully monitor and control the humidity and temperature of the basement environment.

Amateur growers place a plastic bag over wooden pegs that are used as miniature tent poles creating a microclimate for each farm. Growth-producing incandescent lights shine on the farms creating an eerie panorama of glowing domes evocative of an extraterrestrial landscape.

After harvest, the sawdust blocks and their organic grains are recycled as compost for future crops. The Hewitt’s sawdust gardensprouts shiitakes, maitakes, Lion’s mane, oyster and golden oyster mushrooms for their adoring fans. Statewide, local farmers like Rich and Sharon have banded together.

The Oklahoma Food Cooperative is a vital link to those who passionately care about their agricultural goods and an appreciative community who supports them. They only sell food and non-food products that are made in Oklahoma via an order delivery system based on their website, along with a network of members and volunteers across the state. Each month, their producer members post on the Cooperative’s website what they have available.

No matter how you source your mushrooms, ultimately, it may be their final destination that matters most. As pluperfect ingredients for thousands of recipes and restaurant menus, food freaks and chefs fantasize about their earthy goodness. Imagine improving your immune system through the ingesting of this edible fungus. Imagine this irresistible source of flavor, texture and aroma in tortellini in a chanterelle broth, miso shitake breakfast soup or a shellfish risotto with mushrooms. Just imagine.

Foodies and professionals savor dreams of a great Pinot Noir with its earthy flavor notes especially when it is paired with coddled eggs and porcini or any mushroom offering. It is ethereal to many. It reminds the oenophile that the wine in the glass is a force of nature, much like the enduring mushroom itself. Often Pinot Noir is considered the ultimate wine: silky, sexy and seductive. Just like the storied ‘shroom.