one green planet
one green planet

When it comes to growing food, it’s a good idea to start with what comes easy and abundant. The idea is that we can produce much more that way and get into the fine print of specialty crops later. This guideline goes for mushrooms as well.

There are some stars in the mushroom scene. Lion’s mane is renowned for its flavor and medicinal value. Maitake, or hen of the woods, is rich and “meaty”. We know about shiitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. Foraging darlings like morels and chicken of the woods are almost mythical in their culinary prowess.

Wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata), also known as king Stropharia, haven’t gotten quite as many headlines, but they are amongst the easiest mushrooms to cultivate at home, provide huge harvests, and are likened to one of the most popular mushrooms in the US: the portabella.

For those looking to get into the mushroom game, the wine cap may just be the gateway fungi.

What Does a Wine Cap Mushroom Look Like

Source: Learn Your Land/YouTube

King Stropharia is rather a classic mushroom in its shape, a proud stem with a round cap, a la button mushrooms. However, as they grow (and grow and grow), they can reach about eight inches high and a foot across. Hence, they are also sometimes called garden giants and Godzilla mushrooms.

The coloring of the wine cap, however, begins to depart from the whites and browns of supermarket mushrooms. The top of the cap is a deep burgundy, like red wine. Its gills start pale, move to a notable gray, and ultimately settle into a dark purple. The stems (stipes) transition from light brown at the bottom to creamy white on top.

How to Grow Wine Cap Mushrooms

Source: OYR Frugal & Sustainable Organic Gardening/YouTube

Like most fungi we cultivate, wine caps are saprophytic mushrooms. This simply means that they specialize in breaking down decaying matter, in particular wood. So, to grow wine caps, wood will need to be present.

Part of what makes wine caps easy to cultivate is that they prefer wood chips to logs. They prefer to grow on small bits of hardwood, just like gardeners often use for mulching garden beds and/or paths.

To grow them, cultivators need to by sawdust inoculate with wine cap spawn (North Spore, Field & Forest Products, Fungi Ally) and fresh, softer hardwood chips, like maple, poplar, and magnolia. The wood chips should be fresh so that there is still plenty for the mushrooms to feed on, and these can be acquired from tree-cutting services or sometimes municipalities.

Wine caps will grow in beds of mulch. They like a partially shaded spot, such as beneath kale plants or under shrubs. The mulch should be applied in layers of a couple of inches at a time, dispersing the inoculated sawdust between each layer. They can start to produce in just a few months.

As long as fresh wood chips are added to the bed each spring, king Stropharia will continue to fruit in the spring and fall.

How to Cook with Wine Cap Mushrooms

Source: Paul Stamets/YouTube

For the best cooking results, wine cap mushrooms should be harvested before they get too large (They are usually available in spring and fall). When their burgundy hue has faded, and the gills have gotten dark rather than gray, they aren’t really tasty anymore. So, pick them young!

They can be harvested in the button stage for sautéing, just as with button mushrooms from the supermarket. Wine cap buttons have a slight crunch and a mild flavor, so they dance well with garlic and rosemary.

For grilling, a la portabellas, wine caps should be allowed to open, but they should be harvested before they release their spores. If they’ve released spores, they’ll have dark dust on the stems, and a metallic flavor develops. A little oil, a little salt, and a little time on the grill.

These are some great recipes with which wine caps can be substituted:

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