Friday, December 9, 2011

Local Food Report

Although winter vegetables dominate the offerings this week, several varieties of fresh chili peppers, from Jefferson County, remain available in the market. The daikon radishes from Whitley County, Kentucky, are exceptional. I also noted Jerusalem artichokes (Hawkins County), bok choy, lettuce, mustard and kale (all from Loudon County) and mixed cooking greens (Jefferson County). Regional offerings included apples from North Carolina and ginger from Alabama.

A happy find, oyster mushrooms from Sevier County are some of the best I've ever seen. They surely benefited from the wet, relatively mild weather of late. Three Rivers Market maintains an excellent selection of mushrooms, even offering pre-inoculated shiitake logs for the mycophile on you holiday gift list. Although only a few varieties are locally produced, I've enjoyed white button, crimini, portabella, shiitake, oyster, king oyster, maitake, and three types of beech mushrooms (yellow, brown and white.) One thing I love about mushrooms is that they are always organic (whether certified or not), because fungi will not grow successfully with chemical contaminants in their environment.

Shiitakes, for example, are cultivated on freshly cut logs. The best time to start a shiitake log is in autumn and early winter, hence the appearance of ready-to-go logs in the marketplace. Growing your own shiitake is easy, if you follow the simple instructions that come with each log. The logs have to sit for a year before they will bear mushrooms, but the wait is worth it, and they require little attention in the meantime. Jerry and I are planning to start some logs from a Bradford pear we plan to cut down after Christmas. If this works, cultivating shiitake would be a good use for all the weedy, dangerous Bradfords that need to be taken down around the county.

Many people are aware that the Bradford pear is prone to splitting at the crown. Untold numbers of them came down during last spring's spate of severe storms. We have lost two out of three in the last few years, so number three is coming down on our schedule, not its own.

What is not commonly known is that the tree is also notorious for sprouting from seeds carried by birds, whereupon it out-competes native trees and will eventually dominate an area. Like privet and kudzu, Pyrus clevelandi 'Bradford' is an exotic pest plant. Even the undeniable attractiveness of its spring blooms is offset by their scent, which is reminiscent of a fish processing plant.

I say we cut them all down and use the logs to grow mushrooms.

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