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How to tell when a mushroom is ripe

Ripe mushroom"What determines when to pick a ripe mushroom?  I've noticed you seem to have an eye for knowing when they are just right or beyond good eating.  So what are your cues?"
--- jen g

With oyster mushrooms and shiitakes (the ones we know best), the fruiting bodies are tastiest when they're just shy of totally mature.  That means they've expanded out to full size, but the cap is still curling under just a little at the edges.

Overmature mushroomA day or so after reaching this point, mushrooms are overmature and not nearly as tasty.  Then, the caps are flat at the edges, and the gills underneath have often started to be gnawed away by insects.

(I don't mind a few insects in a good mushroom --- just tap the cap lightly against your palm and the little black beetles will fall out.  Any left behind are bonus protein.)

You can pick mushrooms too young and they're still quite tasty, but you get much less mass since the caps haven't expanded yet.  I do this often if a really cold spell is coming, Undermature mushroomsince I figure the mushrooms will be past their prime by the time warm temperatures tempt them to expand.

Noticing mushrooms at peak ripeness has been the entirety of our cultivation effort this year.  There seem to be wild and semi-wild (we inoculated them, then ignored them) mushroom stumps, logs, and trees all over the farm now, which makes it easy to pluck mushrooms whenever they appear.  The ones that get away spread spores to inoculate nearby logs and trees, and the cycle continues.  If you live in a damp climate, it's hard to beat this mushroom-growing method in terms of calorie per hour!

Our chicken waterer keeps care of the backyard flock nearly as simple as plucking wild oyster mushrooms.

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