By ANNE MARIE CHAKER
What do you get when you cross a science experiment with a love of home-grown food? A mound of mushrooms growing out of a turkey pan by the microwave.
That's the way it is at the Redmond, Wash., home of Paul Nghiem, a University of Washington cancer researcher who bought a $26 mushroom-growing kit online around Christmastime. Now, his two sons, ages 5 and 11, are obsessed with it. "The five year old was going nuts," Dr. Nghiem says. "Every day asking, 'Can we cut them? Can we cook them?'"
Following the instructions that came with the kit, Dr. Nghiem placed the block of sawdust in a pan and tented a plastic bag on top with chopsticks. Since then, with consistent watering, the Nghiems have grown several meals' worth of shiitakes. Dr. Nghiem says the boys can't get enough of the mushrooms. "I didn't get to eat any the other day," their dad complains. "They ate them all before I could get to the table."
More bang for the buck can be had growing mushrooms outdoors. Some kit retailers sell "plugs" of mushroom spawn, which growers can inject into logs or even tree stumps, a process otherwise known as "inoculating." The outdoor method takes more work than indoor kits: The grower drills holes in a log, then uses a hammer to whack a dowel plug into each hole. It may take a year or even two before any actual mushrooms appear; but once it occurs, fruiting could potentially continue—on and off—for a period of several years.
Fueling home-growers' enthusiasm is a favorable nutritional profile for the lowly fungus. Mushrooms are low in calories, rich in antioxidants—and they are a rare fresh fruit or vegetable naturally containing Vitamin D.