Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Making Mushrooms and Tempeh

Now for a post with some pictures! Back in March, Jim and I attended the Organic Growers School. This annual event in Asheville offers a mind-boggling array of classes on topics related to organic gardening, farming, and sustainable living.  Over the years, we've learned about rotational grazing, myco-remediation, growing berries, heirloom apples, raising chickens, making goat cheese, using draft horses, building with stacked stones, and so much more. There are always more classes of interest than we have time to attend. This year, we decided to go for quality over quantity and attend a couple of hands-on workshops instead of the shorter classroom sessions. Jim chose one on making tempeh while I went off to learn how to cultivate oyster mushrooms. We both came home with great goodies.

In addition to getting to snack on tempeh during his session with the lovely folks from Smiling Hara Tempeh, he brought home some tempeh of his own making. Well, I should say, in process of being made. I can't do justice to the steps involved since I was elsewhere at the time but I think I understand the procedure in gross terms. They started the process in the classroom by preparing the soybeans (the traditional but far from only legume that can be used), cooking the beans, inoculating them with the starter culture, and putting the mixture into a mold (in this case, a ziplock bag).

Then, he brought it home and had to keep it at a constant temperature--warmer than room temperature but not too warm--so we popped it in the food dehydrator at the lowest setting.

It was supposed to go for 24-48 hours but fortunately, the mycelium spread quickly so when the dehydrator timer turned off early, it didn't screw up everything. We had a lovely brick of tempeh that looks just like the stuff we buy from our local tempeh producers, Smiling Hara and Viable Cultures.

That may not look too appetizing, if you're not already a tempeh fan, but as one who has not yet been won over (thanks to not being short on protein options unlike Jim), I must confess that it was quite tasty when he cooked it up.  As with so many things, freshness makes all the difference.

If he ever gets to spend a bit more time at home, I think we'll see him experimenting with making tempeh from black beans and other legumes.

I, too, got to play with mycelium--the white stuff you see all over the tempeh at the end of the process and what is underlying most of the mushrooms you see. Mushrooms are to mycelium as apples are to the tree--they're just the fruit that the organism puts out to spread its seeds/spores.

In my workshop, we learned how to prepare a happy environment for oyster mushroom spawn (small amounts of mycelium). There are many ways to do this but for convenience, we used a method where you sterilize a bunch of straw and when it's cooled a bit, mix in the spawn. That mixture is then packed into a plastic bag and you add some air holes so the mycelium can breathe.

Like Jim's tempeh, my oyster mushroom spawn needed a nice, warm but not too warm place to hang out. Since it needed to be in the dark and be undisturbed for a few weeks, we chose a little-used closet. The idea was that as soon as I started seeing pins--the tiny beginnings of mushrooms--I needed to move it into the light. Oysters love light once the mycelium has had a chance to grow by chowing down on some of the straw. Sadly, we kept having cold snaps and the mushrooms just didn't want to come out and play. Until we went on vacation. Sure enough, the pins emerged while we were away. By the time we got back, only a few hardy shrooms developed in the dark room despite many, many pins.

I hung the bag on the shower rod near a window in the guest bathroom and misted the bag each day as instructed in hopes that it might fruit again. A couple of weeks and much warm weather later, new pins emerged.

Within days, many more came out and this time, we got gorgeous mushrooms.

Having missed the last fruiting, we made the most of this one. I dug out a recipe I'd been saving for the occasion: Asparagus and Oyster Mushroom Gratins with Spinach Chiffonade (recipe can be found at Vegetarian Times).

We're hoping that we get at least one more fruiting before the contents of the plastic bag become compost but it's starting to heat up like August this week and that may be too much for our mycelium. Fortunately, I'm getting good at finding oyster mushrooms in the wild. While they're not as elegant-looking at the cultivated ones, they have the distinct advantage of being large. More on my foraging adventures in another post. Some day. Who knows when? Not I.


  1. I plan to start with black beans for my next homemade tempeh, then Christmas Lima beans, and then... peanuts. Mmm...

  2. Ok... that oyster mushroom "garden" is very, very cool. I'm going to have to try that!

  3. Hello this is Ron. i just can across your site page about tempeh

    and i had a question about using an excaliber dehydrator for tempeh incubator. First of all do you use a 2900 model and what is the lowest setting on it??? Second what the proper temperature to use the dehydrator as an incubator for tempeh ??? And last have you had any problems with the dehydrator as an incubator for the tempeh in terms of drying out the tempeh or needing to add some water inside the dehydrator for humidity??? Thanks