My wife surprised me with a really thoughtful and creative gift: a couple of Back To The Roots mushroom kits: a regular oyster mushroom kit and a pink oyster mushroom kit. The regular oyster mushrooms started growing and erupted from the box while it was still in transit making that kit useless, and, in spite of their “promise to grow” guarantee the response from Back To The Roots when that happens is “They were eager to grow so sorry!” The pink oyster mushroom kit was at least still good to grow. Still, much as I hate to say it, it gets a mixed review.
Let’s start with the not so good: according to the enclosed instructions the mushrooms would start growing within six days. Day seven would be “decision day”, when I could decide where best to place them for optimal growth: warmer temperatures, more light, and plenty of air flow would make them grow faster with richer color and bigger caps. In fact they were so eager to grow I’d say they were really ready to harvest in less than half that time. I plucked them on day six, and even then I think I let them go too long. The first ones to sprout were getting pale and woody, and the ones closest to the base were starting to rot.
Mushrooms are funny things—in the wild they need just the right conditions to appear. On the How I Built This podcast the founders of Back To The Roots, who tell a great story that’s well worth listening to, say they had trouble with their early mushroom growing. So their instructions really need to explicitly say “Your results may vary”.
That also applies to the amount. They promise “3-4 servings” per crop. I ended up with less than two ounces, barely enough for one serving, and even though it was an early harvest there were no signs of new growth. Kits are also supposed to be able to produce a second crop but in this case it appears to be one and done. They also need to drop the words “guarantee” and “promise” from their website given how their customer service shrugs off complaints, which is why I won’t go back to Back To The Roots.
Now to the good: it was fun watching the mushrooms grow, especially since they grew so quickly. Overnight or even after a few hours I could see dramatic changes in size and shape. And the mushrooms, sauteed in butter, were really tasty. The biggest ones turned crispy and had an almost bacon-like quality, while the small ones were chewy and really absorbed the butter well.
I get that home growing anything is hit-or-miss, which is why any food lovers who want to try cooking with oyster mushrooms would be better off buying them at a store, if you can find them, or foraging in the wild. I know that’s risky, but so is spending at least twenty bucks on a mushroom kit that may or may not produce anything. And, as I said, the mushroom kits were a thoughtful and creative gift. I’m fascinated by mushrooms and I really enjoyed what worked. I’d even like to try growing more and there are a lot of different brands out there. Next time I’ll try one of them.