By MARCIA LANE
INTERLACHEN – Mushrooms are anything but humble at the Great Shiitake Mushroom Festival this Saturday (Jan. 14) in Interlachen in west Putnam County.
And, yes, there are two “i”s in Shiitake.
The festival , which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., includes workshops, lectures and experts. You can meet vendors who sell soaps and salves made from mushrooms and enjoy food featuring mushrooms.
You can also enjoy entertainment including a Spanish guitarist, hula hoop demonstration and Blew Country with Billy Ennis playing blues, country and American originals.
Events are in the downtown area off S.R. 20. Workshops take place in the Old Town Hall, entertainment is on the stage at the caboose in Robert Jenkins Jr. Park, named for the town’s Medal of Honor recipient.
Now in its fifth year the festival is out to make converts of people who may never have seen a mushroom outside of a can. Festival organizer Pat High has made it her mission to make people realize how versatile mushrooms can be and how profitable.
“Most of the vendors and growers got started at our first festival,” High says. “It’s an incredible agricultural crop.”
It’s also one that doesn’t require a huge investment. Logs, a drip line and a tarp will get you started. Grow the shiitake mushroom and you’re looking at a product that goes for $15 a pound. Processed, it can go for $45.
In Japan, says High, the shiitake mushroom is so popular that while there are a number of growers none of the crop leaves the country; it’s all consumed within.
While shiitakes are plugged into logs, other mushrooms such as the PoHu oyster mushrooms and winecaps can be started and grown in wood chips.
You can learn how at the festival and even get free mushrooms to try for yourself.
“We’ll get you started,” says High, who will be talking about the history, nutrition and future of Shiitake growing in Interlachen at 9 a.m..
At 11 a.m. Barry Glidden will be talking about products coming from the Chaga, another type of mushrooms that was used by ancient Native Americans. He’s just released a book: Confessions of a Wild Chaga Hunter, What the USDA Doesn’t Want You to Know.
You may really want to start growing your own after you try some of the food at the festival.
“Hot sauce, quiche, soups, chili. People really like the shiitake food,” says Tree Top, co-author with High of a book called “Shiitake Recipes.”
Interlachen High School Chef Andrew Tyson and his culinary class will be offering demonstrations on preparing shiitake recipes from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Sheila Cates, a local shiitake grower will talk at 3 p.m. about processing shiitakes for health and wealth. She makes a variety of soaps from the shiitake and uses the mushrooms as a dye to color her silk and wool products.