Earth Mother Mushrooms

Interview by Seth Casana
Issue 27 • May 2015 • Fredericksburg

Ryan Mooney, founder of Earth Mother Mushrooms, has a passion for mycelium that he can’t help but share.

When did you get started growing mushrooms?

About eight years ago, I saw a talk by Paul Stamets about how mushrooms can save the world. At that point, I wouldn’t eat two things, mushrooms and chicken livers (and I’m still not sure about chicken livers), but the talk was fascinating so I ordered a kit. It was easy to use and I grew two mushrooms from that first block.

I assume you’ve gotten a lot better since then?

Yes, but even then, I still wasn’t eating mushrooms. I was just fascinated with how they grew. It wasn’t until 2009 when I started growing oyster mushrooms using a different kit that the culinary aspect came into it. As soon as they fruited, I ran over to the Bistro Bethem and asked the owner, “Do you want to buy these?” He said, “Sure, I’ll take ten pounds.”

That’s quite an order considering how light mushrooms are, right?

Yeah, and I had no business model in place at that point! I said, “I need a couple weeks,” and I got really busy setting up greenhouses and stuff. After that first sale, I just kind of went for it making as much substrate as I could.

So you went from buying kits to building your own?

I not only make my own now, but I sell them, too. I’m working a new one for oyster mushrooms that I’m really excited about. I can turn a cardboard box into food that’s full of protein, vitamins, and medicinal properties in less than three weeks. The only byproduct is nutrient-rich soil. I see a future where we have decentralized recycling growing centers like this in every community. It’s the greenest, quickest way to produce protein-rich food.

Where can people try your stuff?

We currently supply Olde Towne Butcher and Kickshaws Downtown Market; they’re the best place to buy our mushrooms for home cooking. We’ve also recently partnered with Roxbury Mills Farm & Garden Center. In the next few months, they’ll start carrying our grow kits so you can cultivate them yourself. I also host a lot of workshops and nature walks where you can learn to safely forage wild mushrooms.

By the way, what was it that eventually got you eating mushrooms?

It took me years to finally figure out the right way to cook shiitakes, but it’s real simple. You’ve just got to cook them for longer than you would think. Twelve minutes on medium heat brings out this whole new umami flavor. You should never eat raw mushrooms because they’re mostly chitin and we can’t digest that, it’s like eating cardboard. The cooking process breaks down the chitin and makes them digestible and delicious.

Shiitake Cheese Steak

Ingredients (serves one)
¼ lb shiitake mushrooms
¼ onion, chopped
1 slice provolone cheese
1 submarine sandwich roll
butter
salt and pepper

  1. Remove mushroom stems, then cut into ¼ inch thick slices (stems can be dried and powdered to use in soup).
  2. In a skillet, sauté mushrooms in butter over medium-high heat. After 5 minutes, add chopped onions and continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes or until mushrooms are slightly crispy. Do not undercook mushrooms. Final texture should be similar to tender roast beef, so if chewy, keep cooking.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, then layer mixture in roll. Top with cheese and allow to melt before serving.

Stay up to date on Ryan’s mushroom saga at facebook.com/EarthMotherMushrooms.

Photography by Seth Casana

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