Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are an easy species to identify in the wild. They have oyster-shaped silvery grey or greyish-brown caps and usually grow in layers on deciduous wood - on a tree that is dying or on dead wood. I describe in more detail how to find and and identify them in an earlier post.
Harvesting Oyster Mushrooms
In our woodland they begin to fruit after a cold snap in the autumn but we have known them to fruit as late as February. We wait until the mushrooms are at least two inches wide and take a sharp knife to the base. They have very little stem so you can't pick them.
A year ago I described different drying methods and said I would test these out and report back. A cold snap this autumn has brought 'the oyster tree' into production and so last weekend Tim and I harvested our first crop (see main photograph) of the year and began experimenting.
Drying Oyster Mushrooms
The first thing to do is to clean your harvest with a soft brush. Tim used a small (1.5cm) artist's brush but any small soft brush will do. Do not wash them! They go slimey and make drying them a much more difficult task.
Then cut the mushrooms along the gills (more or less) into strips with a sharp knife no bigger than one centimetre wide.
There are three main methods you can use:
1) Place them in a roasting tray on kitchen paper and place in a low oven
2) Place them in a roasting tray on kitchen paper and place in a warm airing cupboard
3) Place them on a roasting rack and place on top of a wood burning stove.
Tried all three methods and the easiest for us was the woodburing stove method. We left the mushrooms on the rack for two evenings and then transfered them to a glass jar with a lid. We left the jar without a lid for a further evening before sealing it, making sure the mushrooms are completely dry (so they do not rot). Don't dry them for too long because they will crumble to powder.
We tried the airing cupboard method but ours is not very hot. We have a highly insulated water cylinder and it doesn't radiate heat. We therefore decided to transfer them to the wood burner to finish them off.
I admit we didn't test the last method - in a very low oven on kitchen paper. It just seemed silly to waste the electricity when we had a wood burner heating the house anyway but we have dried mushrooms in the oven before. The main thing to note is that you do need to make sure you are drying small strips and the oven is on low.
Cooking with Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are very fleshy and meaty and are delicious stir-fried. We also like to eat them in casseroles and stews. They add a fullness to any dish. To rehydrate them simply put them in a little hot water. Cover them only. Save the stock and use it in your dish.
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