Last Autumn we had the pleasure of spending a day at Kew Gardens with Raymond Blanc and Kate Humble – and talking mushrooms – in the making of Kew on a Plate, a BBC2 4 part series that re-establishes the long-lost kitchen gardens that once provided produce for the royal table – from George II to Queen Victoria.
The team, with the support of Kew Gardens expert gardener Joe Archer had a fantastic array of heritage vegetables on the go, including kale, squashes and carrots, but was lacking one vital vegetable – Mushrooms!
We were invited to help Raymond to cultivate oyster mushrooms in the Georgian Ice House at Kew. It is fair to say the Ice House was not originally used for mushroom cultivation – it’s a brick building with dome interior what was previously used for storing ice (before freezers!) – but it’s ambient temperature, dark and damp interior made it ideal for mushroom cultivation as we discovered.
Espresso Mushroom Company specialises in making easy to use grow your own kits using coffee grounds for people to grow at home, but because Raymond asked so nicely, we branched out and shared some of our secrets with him about how to cultivate mushrooms from start to finish – although he didn’t need any tips on the cooking side of things!
On the day, we inoculated long hanging tubes of pearl oyster mushrooms, using three different growing mediums: coffee (our speciality), straw (the conventional substrate) and cotton (unusual – but produces amazing results!!). If you’re interested, you can try your own.
Robbie and Raymond made a great team – perhaps Robbie’s student days working as a chef helped him to persuade RB to get his hand dirty – mixing old cotton, straw and coffee with the mushrooms spawn and a few other ingredients. Raymond’s energy was contagious and before long they had prepared the grow bags and took them across Kew Gardens to the Ice House.
There are essentially four steps to mushroom cultivation
- Pasteurisation: where you prepare the growing substrate to ensure minimum contamination
- Inoculation: mixing the spawn with the pasteurised substrate
- Incubation: the inoculated mushroom logs are left in the dark for a couple of weeks while the mushroom ‘takes root’.
- Fruiting: when you grow the mushrooms!
This should take place in a space that gets the light – enough light to be able to read a newspaper – so it doesn’t have to be really bright.
On the day, we worked with RB to pasteurise and inoculate the growing medium, then left the growbags in the Ice House for 2-3 weeks for them to fully colonize. RB and Kate Humble kept an eye on them, and after around 3 weeks they made some incisions on the growbags to encourage the mushrooms to grow out – which they certainly did.
Around 10-12 days after starting the Fruiting stage the mushrooms were in their prime. RB and Kate did not need our help to harvest them – so we can only imagine what happened, but after seeing the Spring episode of Kew on a Plate, we expect RB sing “the mushroom song” he picked them one bunch at a time! We’re looking forward to the show on Monday 30th March so we can see the dish he made; apparently a Mushroom and Vegetable Broth which sounds like a perfect way to cook up some of the freshest mushrooms and heritage vegetables possible.
Spending the day with Raymond Blanc was a fantastic experience for us – it was brilliant to see RB’s enthusiasm is not switched on and off with the cameras – his passion for perfection and energy for all things fresh and tasty was ever present. Robbie and Raymond were even able to share experiences of being mushroom farmers as Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons has its own mushroom valley and fruiting room on the premises – and if you get there soon you’ll be able to see some more mushroom growbags we’ve prepared for them to recreate the Kew on a Plate experience.
Our experience creating an ‘easy to grow’ mushroom cultivation pack for the programme inspired us to launch a DIY Mushrooms kit – for enthusiasts who want to get their hands dirty and try to grow mushrooms for themselves from scratch – more information here.
If you love the idea of growing mushrooms yourself, but don’t want to jump straight into the deep end why not try our original Kitchen Gardens.
We’d also like to thank the team at Lion TV for being so ace – contrats Giulia, Georgie and Emma on the series – we’ve loved it so far, and Anna the Head Vegetable Gardener at Le Manoir for keeping Alex company while Robbie and Raymond were chatting away!