The November issue of FEAST Magazine is out, and it’s full of yummy recipes for Thanksgiving. I’m really jazzed about the creative ideas for cranberries—a favorite in our house way beyond holiday fare—and a vegetarian gal can always use turkey tips for roasting her husband’s bird. But while the article on mushrooms entitled “Where the Wild Things Grow” really caught my attention, I won’t need to travel all the way to Lawrence, Kansas to get my big bunches of pink and gray oyster mushrooms—because they’re just a bike ride across town!

Leo Sulentic with his gray oyster mushrooms

Leo grows both pink and gray oyster mushrooms. If you would like to purchase some, he can be reached at leosulentic@gmail.com

Among the new vendors who showed up at the Land of Goshen Community Market this summer, was a mushroom grower name Leo Sulentic. When I first saw Leo’s beautiful bouquets of rose and cream oyster mushrooms, I wasn’t sure just what they were. Like so many items at the farmer’s market, Leo’s mushrooms are far closer to nature’s intention than mushrooms in the cardboard boxes covered with plastic wrap that we see in the grocery store.

After a quick introduction, I was loading a bag of fresh and a bag of dried mushrooms into my backpack. “How long will these keep?” I asked. (I learned later this is the quintessential newbie question.)

“The dried mushrooms will keep in your pantry at least six months,” he told me. “Perhaps longer. Fresh mushrooms should be eaten within the week.” Not a problem—the fresh ones actually never made it a week—not even a full 24 hours. I sautéed them that very evening for a little dinner party I was giving. What a treat!

The flavor of the mushrooms is just incredible—so fresh and rich. But what’s best about Leo’s crop is that it continues—depending on our weather this winter, I could be eating local, fresh (certainly dried) mushrooms all year! Mushrooms will definitely be on the Thanksgiving table, Christmas brunch menu and New Year’s Day breakfast buffet–if Mother Nature gives us an overall milder winter, that is.

At Leo’s invitation to see his mushroom production, I rode my bike over to his house that is only a mile or so away from my own—I never would have known we lived so close if it had not been for his appearance at the market. Actually, Leo and his family have lived in Edwardsville for years, and his mushrooms have a modest following among local chefs, like Eric Heath and Jennifer Cleveland of Cleveland Heath on Main Street in Edwardsville, as well as among his new-found market groupies, like me. He’s hoping to grow his customer list along with his mushroom crop.

His interest in mushrooms goes back several years. He and a close friend who now lives in Taos fell in love with wild mushrooms during their youth, learning to be expert foragers and cooks of fantastic fungi such as Hen of the Woods (maitake) and, of course, morrells. But he became a serious grower after discovering the theories of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician, New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods.

Often called “the father of nutritional eating,” Dr. Furhrman created the acronym G-BOMBS (Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds), helping his patients and followers remember the most nutrient-rich foods that should be part of everyone’s disease-preventative daily diet. Yes, the M stands for mushrooms. But not all mushrooms are created equal; some have far greater medicinal qualities than others. Leo was after the freshest and best he could get, so he started growing his own.

mushrooms growing in bagsHis production takes place in his large, heated garage, where bags of mushrooms blossom throughout a “good” year. His enemies are cold temps and low humidity—a.k.a. the typical Midwest winter. Last year, for instance, was not a good mushroom winter, according to Leo. But hope springs eternal, just like his mushrooms from their plastic-bag homes.

Leo with his home-grown pasteurizer

Leo with his hot-water bath pasteurizer

His crop begins life in a home-manufactured, hot-water bath pasteurizer, to which he adds cottonseed hulls. After roughly a couple of days, the cottonseed mixture moves from the pasteurizer to sterile plastic bags along with spawn—the magic substance that encourages the mushrooms to grow. Then Leo waits. How long he waits—just like any farmer—depends on the weather, season and all that is unpredictable in the universe. The wait is worth it. Soon the new mushrooms are busting to get out and grow.

Then the cooking and the fun begin. Leo uses up all the mushroom—stem butts make great mushroom stock (You can bet mine ended up in my freezer.). And his favorite recipe testifies to the simple deliciousness of “fresh.”

mushrooms in skillet with butter

He puts his butter in a large sauté pan and turns on the heat. He might add garlic and some onion and a little salt. Once his sauté is underway, he adds the mushrooms and lets them cook, stirring occasionally. About halfway through, he adds a big splash of dry white wine (A good dry sherry works great, too!) and finishes the dish with fresh herbs—thyme is his favorite.

mushroom dinner with spinach saladFor our dinner table, I fixed pink oysters just as Leo suggested and topped my grilled wild salmon and my husband’s grass-fed burger. I put the burger and the salmon on top of spinach salad and served with white wine. The meal was so fresh and healthy and felt like weekend dining on a Wednesday night.

mushrooms with pasta and root vegetablesFor a dinner party this past weekend, I created a sauté with shallots, garlic and gray oysters, to which I added a generous half-cup of dry white sherry and some fresh herbs. I tossed this with whole wheat pasta and sprinkled with a high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. Alongside, I served autumn root vegetables, coated with a mixture of a quarter cup olive oil, four tablespoons balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste, and roasted at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes.

I also did a “half-cook” of about a pound of mushrooms in a butter sauté  in order to freeze a bag. Leo thinks it will work, so stay tuned and I’ll share the results–especially if the winter turns out to be uncooperative.

If you are interested in cooking with Leo’s amazing mushrooms, you can contact him by email at leosulentic@gmail.com. Then share your creations with us on Green Gal of the Midwest.