It’s planting season, which for kids usually means: dig dirt, put seeds in, water, and like Toad in Frog and Toad Together, they wait and wait and wait and wait. Now, if Toad had simply chosen to grow mushrooms, the story would have gone a little differently. Toad would have seen growth within a couple of days, and not only would he have gained a beautiful garden, but also some nice comfy toadstools to rest his laurels on. Your little toads can have just as much fun and with a lot less work. These days growing mushrooms is literally as easy as cutting open a box and spraying a little water.
A good starter kit can be had from Back to the Roots. You just pull out the self-contained block of coffee grounds and spores, and soak it for 12 hours. Then put it back in the box, slice open the plastic window so that you can get in there with the mister. And mist, mist, mist. They say to mist twice a day, but you can’t really mist these puppies too much. You will start to see a mold-like growth in about two days.
My daughter was not particularly fond of this stage, but many kids will find it completely fascinating. Once those cute little oyster mushrooms start popping out, you would be hard pressed to find a kid not totally taken with this project. You can usually harvest the mushrooms within 10 days. And then, you get to turn the kit around and start all over!
There are other kits out there too, and for the seasoned mushroom grower, you can even get yourself some spores, liquid culture and sterile spore syringes, and set up your own operation. A handbook like the Mushroom Book for Beginners would be, well, handy in this endeavor.
If you can’t imagine fungi farming enough to keep up with your family’s demands, and you don’t want to shell out at the grocer’s every week, you can consider venturing into the world of mushroom picking in the wild. You will need a handbook and a little bit of common sense so as to not venture into Psychedelic Wonderland or take a trip to the ER, but it can be done — carefully. Just be sure that you are clear with your kids about the kinds of mushrooms that can be picked and that of course, they should never pick any without adult supervision. This is actually probably a good conversation to have even if you just grow them at home.
Even more fun than growing and harvesting mushrooms is preparing and eating them. Mushrooms are packed with vitamins and minerals. Of special interest to vegetarians and vegans is the iron and vitamin D content of mushrooms. If that is not enough of an advertisement, there are also studies being conducted taking a look at the anti-oxidant properties in preventing certain kinds of cancer.
But really, mushrooms just taste good. And they are easy to make into kid-friendly entrees. One of our favorites is the vegan mushroom burger. This is easy and fun for kids to mix up and mold into burgers:
The basic rule of thumb is to start with about ½ cup of chopped mushrooms per burger. Then add about 3 tablespoons of a mix of your favorite chopped veggies per burger. Carrots and onions are good staples here. We love garlic in our house, so depending upon your level of love, add one or more cloves. Then add some breading to the mix: Panko, or Japanese bread crumbs, are great for this application. You will need about 2 1/2 tablespoons per burger (a little less if using another variety of bread crumbs). Next you will need a binder. Take 1 tablespoon of your favorite flour (per burger) and mix with a tablespoon of your favorite water and you have a nice paste to hold everything together. Stir this into your breaded veggie/mushroom mix, form into thin patties, and sauté until browned on each side.
If all of this growing, harvesting, and cooking has given you mushroom on the brain, check out Mycophilia by Eugenia Bone to learn more about the science, history, culture, and lore of everyone’s favorite fungus.