You just never know who you’ll meet at a local food cook-off. It took place at the Causeway Restaurant in Long Point Beach just outside of Port Rowan. This cute little roadhouse diner was celebrating local food with a community-cooking demo and Ruth Reimer won for her Lake Erie pickerel.
Ruth and husband Dave run Seldom Rest Ranch, a shiitake farm in Port Rowan. After the fun at the Causeway, Jon and I headed out to their shiitake farm not far away. When we arrived, Dave got in his 4-wheeler and called over his shoulder, “try to keep up”. He darted out the back and into a giant, dry soy field about half a kilometer long. As Dave drove he kicked up a sandy, dust cloud that we drove blindly into. The trick is to outrun the cloud and city folk that we are, we weren’t doing such a good job.
We were heading for the dark, thick forest in the distance and it came closer and closer to meet us. Finally, we drove into the shade of the cool, moist forest. A few yards in, Dave came to a stop and dismounted his 4-wheeler.
We were surrounded by tall trees, underfoot was the crunch of dried leaves and the smell was of compost and dampness. Then like rows of grapevines, there were long rows of 4-foot slanted logs leaning up against a strung wire and each other. Dave has almost 30,000 oak logs in 12 acres of bush that produce approximately 5,000 pounds of beautiful shiitake mushrooms a year.
Dave explained how the mushrooms like to be jolted into activity. Their growth accelerates with the shaking of a thunderstorm or the sudden change in temperatures like an early spring. In the absence of a disturbance, Dave takes each log and throws it down on the ground to shock it into growing.
When it comes to watering the mushrooms, it’s best to keep the mushrooms stressed so Dave takes the biblical approach and waters every 40 days or 40 nights.
Seldom Rest Ranch is an organic farm and Ontario’s largest shiitake log mushroom farm. As the mushrooms grow on the sides of the inoculated logs, they crack their thin brown skins that reveal the inner white flesh. They look beautifully crackled and irresistibly delicious, like edible art on a log.
We get back in the car again and drive deeper into the forest. The rows of oak shiitake logs are unending. We stop by a small, moss filled pond and get out again. It’s damper and cooler. Dave remembers something and tells us to stay put and he takes off like a bullet in his 4-wheeler.
The forest is silent except for the buzzing of mosquitos. It’s like a large city of oak logs and we’re in the centre of town. As we feast our eyes on the thousands of mushrooms growing all around us, the mosquitos are feasting on us. That’s when we notice the little rabbit that’s hopped right up to us. Jon starts snapping pictures and it takes refuge in a cluster of logs.
A traditional Shiitake harvest is from May to November. The mushrooms continue to grow and each log is continuously harvested until the weather shuts down the growing cycle.
Of course, it’s asparagus season and Jon wants to shoot an asparagus field. Dave directs him out of the forest and through a field. “When you come to a road on the other side of the forest”, Dave says, “turn left”. We made it across the farmers field and onto the road. Jon got to shoot his asparagus field but the challenge now was how to find our way back – surely we shouldn’t go through the farmers field and forest again. Stay tuned for the delicious recipes I create with my shiitakes.