Walking down to the best Meadowcreek swimming hole last week, we stopped dead in our tracks. A thirty foot tall tree was sprouting mushrooms from tip to toe. We knew what we were having for dinner: Oysters. That’s what mushroom-lovers call this highly prized mushroom. And the O is always capitalized by those who know this luscious treat. When you tell someone you found some Oysters, you’ll probably have a gleam in your eye and a little brag in your voice.
If you are lucky enough to live at Meadowcreek, you know where several Oyster trees are. If one Oyster tree is fruiting, all the others most likely have great flushes too.
So after eating your fill, you head out to harvest mushrooms to eat later and for all the restaurants which love our Meadowcreek mushrooms. Our Oyster-lovers can’t wait till morning because they want to get the Oysters at their prime.
You might have eaten oyster mushrooms at fancy restaurants, or paid a steep price to buy some at a gourmet market. Unless you got them from Meadowcreek, the “wild” Oysters you buy are most likely cultivated, not wild. They are usually grown on hardwood logs that are inoculated with Pleurotus ostreatus spores.
Oyster mushrooms grow throughout North America. If it rains enough and it’s not too hot or cold, you can find them any month of the year.ushro
At Meadowcreek, we find Oysters year-round on trunks of dead deciduous trees–mainly oaks. In summer, the caps are wide, flat and white. In winter more rounded and brown.
The Oyster is one of the best wild edible mushrooms, but you have to know when and where to look for them. When is a day or so after a rain. Where is on a good Oyster tree.
We have several good Oyster trees. Once you spot one, you’ll want to memorize its location. The best one is on the path to the Blue Hole. We pass it almost every day. When it flushes after a rain, we go see all the others and, so far, find they also have a great harvest.
There are many stories of people finding a good Oyster tree, forgetting where it is, and searching for years to find the tree again. Or finding a good Oyster tree in forbidden territory and sneaking in to harvest the ‘shrooms. Or finding Oysters just out of reach on a dead tree.
Some think it’s a mushroom that lives up to its name—it looks, smells, and tastes like oysters. With virtually no stalk, it’s oyster-shaped caps usually grow in layers on dead deciduous wood like clusters of oysters. The moist, hairless, fragrant, white to smoky-gray caps are 2-8 inches wide. Last week ours were cream colored.
Unlike many other shelf fungi, the undersides of Oysters are gilled. The stems, when present, are off center with the gills running part way down them.
They are pretty easy to identify and they have no poisonous look-alikes in North America.
I don’t really think they smell and taste like exactly like oysters. Some detect a bittersweet smell like anise or almonds. The taste and smell are definitely unique–just call it the “oyster mushroom smell.”
The scientific name is Pleurotus ostreatus, but there are other species of oyster mushrooms including Pleurotus eryngii (king oyster) and Pleurotus pulmonarius(phoenix, or Indian oyster). Cultivated varieties include the golden, blue, tamogitake, salmon, and flamingo oyster mushrooms. Golden oysters are beige to bright yellow with white stems; blue oysters are gray to a light blue in color.
Interesting factoids: Oyster is one of the few carnivorous mushrooms. Its mycelia inside the dead tree are capable of killing and digesting nematodes. Their main source of food is dead wood. They are often seen growing on dying hardwood trees, but they aren’t killing the tree. As the tree dies of other causes, P. ostreatus grows on the rapidly increasing mass of dead and dying wood. They actually benefit the forest by decomposing the dead wood, returning vital elements and minerals to the ecosystem in a form usable to other plants and organisms
Prep of Oysters. Cut out any part near the stem that’s so tough you can’t pinch through, and save it for stock. Cook the tender parts using any method. 10-20 minutes. Since they have a soft, chewy texture and taste a little like seafood, you can use seasonings suitable for seafood for a mock seafood effect.
Don’t wash them unless a lot of bugs are in them. They won’t keep as long if you get them wet. Just brush off any bugs. Insects do like the sanctuary of the gills, so if you need to wash them out, use a minimal amount of water, Gently press between paper or cloth towels to remove excess liquid.
Cooking. Simply saute in butter or oil and you’ve got a great dish. Oysters are also great in stir-fry since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. In Japanese, Korean, Indian, and Chinese cuisine, Oysters are a delicacy frequently served on their own or in soups, stuffed, or made into a sauce. Once heated briefly in butter or oil, they make a delightful light cream sauce to pour over fillets of fish or chicken breasts.
Oyster mushrooms are also used by Czechs and Slovaks in soups and stews as a replacement of meat. Thomas Jefferson is said to have served oyster mushrooms braised in cream on toast points as part of his Thanksgiving feasts at Monticello.
Since they are thin and fragile, if you prepare a dish that requires a long cooking time, add Oysters at the last stage of cooking.
Sometimes very large specimens with flesh more than 1 inch thick are found. These can be cut into large pieces, dipped into slightly beaten eggs, and then rolled in bread crumbs for pan-frying.
I love Oysters, but we have real experts at Meadowcreek if you want to learn more. One more reason you have to get to Meadowcreek.
Check out this link for more info in identifying Oysters: Oyster ID Guide.
Read more about how mushrooms help ecosystems become more resilient in Chapter 8 of our book at this link.