As a part of our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we recently chatted with Jon Salmon of Mycosense Mushrooms — a Portland-based two-man operation that crafts beautiful Golden and Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kits — about the mystique of mushrooms. Not surprisingly, he has a lot to say on the subject, plus a recipe for one of the tastiest breakfast sandwiches around.
You can check out Jon’s kits in person at Pistils.
PISTILS NURSERY: Why mushrooms? What led you to them and why should people care about them?
Jon Salmon: Why mushrooms? That is a loaded question! To start I have always been a little on the obsessive side with fungi. As a child I would hunt for mushrooms and draw mushrooms of my imagination nearly every day. I guess they just have a pull on me — they are magical! Everyone should care about mushrooms for a variety of reasons.One, they are stunning in so many different shapes, colors, sizes, habitats, etc. From mushrooms in the forest and our gardens there are mushrooms that grow from the bodies of insects and mushrooms that grow from walls and floors of our homes and everywhere in between. How is that not amazing? Fungi have, over the last however many millions of years, filled every niche possible and sometimes for me the amazement is almost too much to handle. Red ones, blue ones, ones that turn from red to blue. Some that kill and some that give life. Some fungi don’t look anything like fungi. Some so small they are difficult to see and some so large they seem impossible.
It is certainly too much to explain the feelings of awe I get from mushrooms. One might be able to see my wonder by observing my activities with them. I grow them, hunt them, put them under my microscope, eat them, talk about them and, read about them every day. And folks around me know this. I often get calls, text messages, and emails with friends and family wanting me to ID some mushroom found or to show me something shroomy that they think I might like. I am the mushroom guy.
Second, looking globally, fungi are a major food source all across the world as well as a great economic venture. I have talked with a few different farmers across the globe from Thailand to Macedonia who are making a living doing what they love and sharing what they learn in our online global communities.Third is the use of fungi for environmental rehabilitation. From radiation clean-up to water treatment, fungi are proving to be a promising helper in the cleaning of our world. Also, there is a fungus that was recently found that eats plastic! Let your mind run wild with that one for a bit.
And lastly, mushrooms create a gateway to so many topics such as, sustainability, ecology, positive outdoor activities for children and adults, biology, food webs, economy, history, anthropology, evolution, etc. And all of these topics can have huge effects on how we see the world around us. I can’t imagine anything but positive understandings and lasting epiphanies on these and all the other topics fungi are gateways to. And all of these effects can be had by people of all ages and backgrounds.
PN: What’s the story behind Mycosense Mushrooms?
JS: Years ago, I took my now-business partner, Jeremy Jacobs, and his wife Meghann on their first mushroom hunt in Tillamook forest. We harvested a few pounds of chanterelles while snow was coming down through the trees – it was beautiful, and they soon became mushroom junkies like me.
Before Mycosense I was working as a botanist doing field work — spending time outdoors looking for flowers, basically doing what I love, which is to be somehow working with and around organisms other than humans. But after some time I realized I need to be my own boss and follow this crazy mushroom obsession wherever I could let it take me.
So, a couple of years ago in a PSU chemistry lab where Jeremy was working as a lab tech running experiments, I told him about this business idea making mushroom kits. He was almost more excited than me! After telling Jeremy my idea he basically took charge and said “We are doing this!”
Thus, Mycosense Mushrooms was born. We wanted to bring our viewpoint to the table. It is a perspective from people who are in love with the natural world, being involved locally, and being a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. We wanted to share with people some ideals that we have as well. Ideals of health, awareness of the natural world, DIY attitudes, understanding the importance of local economies, local and healthy foods, and we figured we could do all of this through the mushroom kit. We hope people can see that when the look at what we are trying to do. We really wanted to make something that showed our passions and beliefs. And from that stance, we got to work.
PN: Your kits are beautiful. Tell us about the design work that went into your product. How did you balance form and function?
JS: We worked on the design for a long time – over a year, actually. The key element was the box design. For that, Jeremy called upon the skills of his close friend Martin Linde. Martin is a professional designer and a very astute guy. We developed the kit design over the course of a year. Many meetings and just as many beers brought us to what we have now, and we could not be happier with it. It is beautiful, it stands out, it gives us the chance to reach out and share some ideas we believe in, and just simply works.
It was very important to us to source as much as we could from here at home, and are happy to work with Columbia Corrugated Cardboard from right down the road in Clackamas. We wish it could all be from here.
Then, we had to find a good source of an agricultural by-product. We decided to work with straw and have found local organic sources from the Willamette Valley. We make kits with two species: the golden oyster, Pleurotus citrinopileatus, and the pearl oyster, Pleurotus ostreatus.
We make all of our products from Jeremy’s garage. We built a lab with a laminar flow hood where we work with the cultures in a clean environment. We built the whole production line with limited resources and we are making it work. We also built our pasteurizing equipment. This is a very DIY adventure. We are very proud of what we have accomplished so far. Soon, we’ll be moving to an industrial space – we need more room! We have some things in the pipeline that you should be seeing in a couple of years. It’s all hush hush around Mycosense HQ for now. I’ve said too much.
PN: Do you have any favorite mushroom recipes to share for pearl and golden oyster mushrooms? How do we get the most deliciousness possible out of your kits?
JS: I love one very specific way to eat my mushrooms. You see, I am a breakfast guy. I love eggs, butter, oil, salt, pepper, and mushrooms. So, my favorite mushroomy breakfast sandwich goes as follows.
- Keizer bun
- Hot pepper of choice. I like them to be red whatever they are. (it is prettier that way and yes I cook for aesthetics as well as flavors)
- Tillamook aged white cheddar (optional)
- Safflower oil or other high temp flavorless oil. (NOT canola! It smells awful and leaves a strange flavor.)
- Mushrooms (chanterelles and oysters work great)
- Salt and Pepper
First, chop a small handful of mushrooms into slivers and set aside. Mince about ½ tbsp. to one tbsp. of hot pepper set aside. In a skillet heat up ½ tbsp of oil and just as much butter. We want this to be pretty hot as we are going to get a little bit of a crispy edge on the mushrooms so, just wait until the oil begins to smoke and then add the mushrooms.
Cook mushrooms until you see them just beginning to brown on the edges (about 3 mins). Add the minced hot peppers and cook for one minute.Then, remove the mushroom mixture from the heat and set aside in strainer to drain excess oil. I keep mine covered to preserve the heat.
Butter your Keizer bun and pop it in the toaster oven, and then, using the same skillet, cook your egg however you like it. Personally, I like a medium egg with lots of runny yolk.
- On the bottom bun, first put a layer of shredded cheddar.
- Then, put the egg on the cheese
- Salt and pepper on egg.
- Then put the pepper mushroom goodness on top.
- Put top of Keizer bun on and enjoy with your favorite coffee.
You seriously cannot go wrong with this. Unless you do. Then just call me and I’ll help you. It is messy and beautiful.
PN: What are the next steps for folks who love your kits and are serious about mushroom cultivation at home?
JS: We hope that our kits will, at least for some, instill a desire to learn more and grow mushrooms themselves from the cultures on up to the fruiting of the mushrooms. We hope to get people involved in all the steps of cultivation. This can be in a grow room or this could be in the yard or other natural environment.
For the person who is ready to take growing mushrooms at home as a hobby to the next level, they should get involved with some online cultivation communities. Also, you can come to one of our classes that will be taught by myself and the fantastic Camille Messina! Schedule to come.
Folks can always drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I would be happy to supply some lab equipment as well as resources for growing. There are many of us mycophiles around and we are a group of people who have an instant bond. So find us and we will make you one of us and teach you how to go from Mycosense Mushroom kits to making your own!