Local Food Albuquerque
When I was a child, mushrooms were considered an exotic ingredient, and it was hard to find them outside a can. Now every supermarket carries at least two or three kinds, and specialty markets offer more types. Here in Central New Mexico we can get local oyster mushrooms grown at Exotic Edibles of Edgewood. They are a regular feature at the Downtown Growers’ Market at Central and Eighth Street on Saturday mornings, but get there early, because they sell out fast. In the winter you can get them at the Nob Hill branch of La Montanita Co-op, and at the Los Ranchos Farmers’ Market, which operates all through the year on the second Saturday morning of each month.
But there’s a lot more to fungi than cooking. Scott and Gael, the mushroom mavens of Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, produce delicious oyster mushrooms that enhance all sorts of dishes, but they make it clear that their interest doesn’t stop with the culinary uses. “Mushrooms can help save the planet” says Gael, and they can cite multiple ways in which mushrooms can be used to clean up oil spills, break down petrochemicals, take up heavy metals, reclaim damaged ground so that plants can get started, and enhance the growth of plants. The whole process is called “mycoremediation,” and if you’re interested I highly recommend the fascinating book by Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running. I don’t know of a more interesting introduction to the role that this fifth kingdom plays in the world around us.
At the table mushrooms are more fleshlike than plantlike, with a smooth and meaty texture that makes a great centerpiece for vegetarian meals. The analogy holds in other respects too; like animals, mushrooms take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. The total amount is small and not of environmental concern but mushroom growers have to monitor it because it can affect the growth of the mushrooms. Mushrooms also can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. I hasten to add that commercially grown mushrooms are not exposed to direct sun and can’t be used as a source of vitamin D, but at least one mushroom, the shitake, has shown capacity to produce large quantities of vitamin D when exposed to sunlight after cutting. To my fascination, those irradiated gills-up produced more than double the vitamin D of those irradiated caps-up.
Visiting the mushroom-growing houses in Edgewood is a bit other-worldly, with the soft pearlescent mushrooms reaching out from the straw tubes all around you, but the rest of the operation is firmly of this world, filled with equipment that Scott designed and welded, and buildings that the couple constructed together. All water has to be hauled in, so their operation is designed to be very water-wise. Due to use of low-flow misters in the growing houses, the entire operation can be misted with a total of five gallons of water a day. They plan to market a pate’ made with dried mushrooms in the future, and I was lucky enough to get a taste and can assure you that you’ll like it. And I’m happy to say that all the obvious hard work hasn’t blunted their enthusiasm. Stop by their booth at the Grower’s Market, let them start your myco-education, and take home some mushrooms for dinner. Be sure to let them know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you!