A change in the quality of the sunlight tells me it's nearly September, back-to-school month for many students, and Local Food Month for all of us. Sponsored by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, the North Coast Growers' Association, the North Coast Co-op and KHSU-FM, this month-long string of delicious events celebrates local foods and the people who bring them to our markets, stores and tables. Throughout September and into October, more than two dozen events provide special opportunities for getting to know and appreciate our foodscape.
The range of events this weekend alone shows what a bountiful foodscape it is. Are you interested in grains? If so, you can help with the grain harvesting at Hindley Ranch in Honeydew this Saturday, Sept. 1, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Do you wish you knew more about how to save and savor the best of the season? That same Saturday, Bayside Park Farm at 930 Old Arcata Road will give a food preservation workshop from 10 to 11:30 a.m., with an emphasis on herb storage, herb tinctures and butters, and drying techniques. (That workshop will only touch briefly on canning, but don't worry -- a nearly daylong canning workshop is coming up Sept. 15 at the Humboldt County Agriculture Center in Eureka.) Or have you ever wondered how mushrooms are grown? Michael Egan of Mycality Mushrooms will tell you all about it during the open house at his farm in Samoa this Sunday, Sept. 2, from noon to 3 p.m.
I recently visited Mycality Mushrooms, which is registered organic pending certification, at 1900 Bendixsen St. in Samoa. While Egan showed me his farm, he described the fascinating process of growing mushrooms, which includes four stages, starting from the preparation of the bags containing the medium where the mushrooms will grow.
The medium -- straw for oyster mushrooms and a mixture of hardwood sawdust, wheat bran and gypsum for the other varieties -- is sterilized to make sure nothing else will grow on it, Then it is inoculated with mushroom spores. Here's an appetizing morsel of preview: visitors on the Mycality tour will experience this part of the process firsthand, then bring home a special souvenir -- a fruiting bag that, in time, will provide them with pretty and tasty oyster mushrooms.
After inoculation, the bags are placed in the incubating room, where the mushrooms spread through the transparent bag as Egan watches them move toward the fruiting stage. Anywhere from four to 16 weeks later, depending on the species, the mushrooms are ready to sprout. The final stage occurs in the fruiting room, where mushrooms finally come out, mature and are harvested for our palates' enjoyment. (I realize I am moving fast forward here, but I'm hoping to whet your appetite.)
In the fruiting room, I saw Black Poplar mushrooms (called pioppini in my native Italy), then Lion's Mane mushrooms. Looking like mini frozen waterfalls, with their icicle-like white spines cascading down on the side of the growing substrate, Lion's Mane mushrooms bear no resemblance to the common mushroom with its cap and stem. I then admired elegant oyster mushrooms growing in clumps or clusters along the side of long bags as if on the trunk of trees.
Egan also grows Shiitake, Nameko, the traditional miso soup mushroom, Enokitake and Maitake, raising some on his property on Fickle Hill Road. A dehydrator allows him to dry some of the Shitake crop for longer term storage and consumption (this product is available in the bulk section of the Arcata Co-op). My nose certainly enjoyed being in the dehydrator room.
When holding in my hand a mushroom with which I am not familiar, my first question is: How do I cook it? That's what I asked when I held the Lion's Mane mushroom. Egan instructed me to cut it lengthwise into quarter-inch slices and simply sauté it. This mushroom is prized for its delicate flavor and texture -- its texture reminded me of scallops, and many compare its flavor to crab, lobster or other seafood. During the event, visitors will be able to ask questions about appropriate care and cooking options for the different varieties of Mycality mushrooms and to sample some dishes prepared with them.
The open house at Mycality Mushrooms is one example of the many events that organizers of Local Food Month have put together for the public. You can find the full schedule at www.caff.org/humboldt, so make sure you go through it and then mark your calendar with the ones that appeal to you. This weekend also includes the annual harvest festival at the Mattole Grange in Petrolia. Later this month and early next, look for a pesto party, farm tours, interpretive walks, potlucks, and much more, including a Taste of Willow Creek and an apple harvest festival in Fortuna. Take this opportunity to learn more about local food producers and how to make the best use of the bounty they work hard to bring to us. Think of it as Thanksgiving in September.
While more details are available on the website of the Humboldt Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers, the group offers this contact information for the four events coming up this weekend: Hindley Ranch grain harvest, Laurence (629-3292) or Lisa (599-9088); food preservation workshop 805-459-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Mycality mustrooms, 834-6396, email@example.com; Mattole Grange, www.mattolegrange.com.