Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Visit With Some Not-so-Deadly Mushrooms

--Susan, every other Sunday

In Japan, autumn has arrived. We're still waiting on colorful foliage (which won't show up in Tokyo for at least another month), but even so, the celebration of all-things-autumn has begun.

The changing seasons are an important part of life in Japan. From clothing and menus to special activities, just about everything here has a seasonal flair.

When autumn arrives, many Japanese people head to the mountains for hiking, to view the autumn leaves (an activity known as momijigari--紅葉狩り--which is very popular in Japan), to hike, or to spend an afternoon at one of Japan's many fruit and vegetable farms. Fruit picking is popular all year long, but particularly enjoyable in autumn, when grapes, apples, and nashi (asian pears) are all in season.

While looking for a place to pick autumn fruit, I discovered the website for Uchinuma Mushroom Park (http://u-kinoko.jp), a dedicated mushroom farm where visitors can pick--and grill--several varieties of cultivated mushrooms (the variety available depends on the status of the crop and season).

The sign reads "Enjoy Mushroom Hunting! Uchinuma Mushroom Park."


I also learned that this weekend was the official start of the farm's shiitake season . . . an opportunity I couldn't miss. I made a reservation, and yesterday morning I hopped two trains and a bus and traveled two hours northwest of Tokyo to visit the mushroom farm.


Uchinuma sits five minutes' walk from the bus stop, at the base of a forested mountain.

The entrance to the mushroom farm. (The building on the left is where we eat them.)


Signs mark the way, so although the road is curvy it's pretty much impossible to get lost.

"Mushroom Hunting. Uchinuma Mushroom Park. Cafe"



When I arrived, I checked in at the cafe, where I received a warm welcome from the women who run the shop and mushroom farm. They had copies of the mushroom-picking instructions in English, as well as Japanese, though fortunately the instructions are so simple that even my limited Japanese was good enough.

Shiitake mushrooms, growing on logs.


One of the women walked me from the shop to the mushroom greenhouse, where the mushrooms were growing on stacks of logs.

So many mushrooms...


Many commercial mushroom growers use manure or dirt for growing mushrooms. However, in the wild many varieties of mushrooms grow on trees (living as well as dead), and according to Uchinuma's owners, mushrooms taste better and absorb more healthy nutrients when grown on wood. (On a personal, and entirely unscientific basis, I find wood a more appetizing substrate, too.)

Dirt or poop? I know which one I pick.


Shiitake mushrooms are ready for harvest when the caps open up like flat umbrellas. The larger, flat-topped mushrooms taste the best and are more tender (and less woody) than their smaller counterparts.

This one is ready.


The mushrooms at Uchinuma were in all stages of growth, and the woman who showed me to the growing shed explained that I should hunt for the best-looking ones I could find.


This is what dinner looks like in the (sort of) wild.


When I found a good candidate, she explained how to pinch the stem at the bottom and gently wiggle it free from the log. Ripe mushrooms release fairly easily, which is another way to ensure you've chosen well. If a gentle wiggle doesn't loosen it, move on.

Wiggle, wiggle, little shroom . . .



Hunting through the shed reminded me of hunting for Easter eggs as a little kid - I felt a thrill every time I saw another good one.

These are my shiitake. There are many like them, but these are mine. . .


I harvested two bags of mushrooms (which Uchinuma sells by weight, at a price that is significantly lower than what you pay for premium shiitake mushrooms at the store). After weighing and paying for them, the women showed me to a table in the dining tent, where a little charcoal grill was hot and waiting.

Mushrooms on the grill.


Because everyone knows that the real point of picking mushrooms is eating mushrooms.

Mmmmmm...ushroom.

Which I did.


I love all kinds of mushrooms, and have eaten them many times, but I have never tasted any as tender and fresh as the freshly-picked-and-grilled ones I ate Saturday at Uchinuma Mushroom Park.


The farm also has a cafe with a menu that is unsurprisingly mushroom-forward. I opted for the mushroom (and bacon) pizza - which did not disappoint.

Mushroom pizza.

For years, I'd wanted to go mushroom hunting, but demurred because foraging for mushrooms can be a risky proposition in the wilderness--even if you know what you're looking for. Uchinuma took the guesswork (and the risk) away, which is nice because although the title of the blog is Murder is Everywhere, I prefer to keep the murder-shrooms it out of my dinner bowl.

People seem to have strong opinions about mushrooms, so . . . what say you? Mushroom hunting: yea or nay?

9 comments:

  1. I'm yea, but I like your version. And I'm also envious...

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  2. Love mushrooms, but have never hunted them in the wild. Like you, I've no interest in committing shroomicide...

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  3. I have gone hunting for mushrooms in the Jura Mountains in France with friends who are experts. And helped to cook and have eaten what we found. YUM! I would not trust myself going alone, or accepted the amateur opinion of anyone else much at all. You, my friend, have chosen the best possible alternative. BTW, I want some of that pizza, RIGHT NOW!!

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    Replies
    1. The pizza was FABULOUS. As was everything else. I loved it. Will go again.

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