We have a special tree deep in a beech wood that gives us oyster mushrooms every year, usually after a cold snap. I went there this morning to see if the mycellium was running but it is still dormant. When the muchrooms grow they appear in wonderful fluted abundance and we can never eat them all fresh.
Oyster mushrooms do not like sealed containers and they do not like plastic bags. The plastic makes them go slimey, as does washing them. Brown paper bags make them dry out. If you need to wash them either use them immediately or pat them dry with kitchen paper. Best, clean them with a dry soft brush, the kind you get at the end of a mushroom knife. Store them in the vegetable compartment of the fridge or a cold store in a lidded yet slightly open plastic box so that they can breathe. They will last for two weeks in good condition.
But what about drying oyster mushrooms? I have never seen dried oysters for sale but I was sure it is possible. They are too big and fleshy to be dried whole but they can be torn into strips. I found a useful blog on the subject, Montana Mushrooms by Dean:
"When you find a good oyster mushroom source, you often find more than you can eat right away. Oysters don't store or keep very long after picking, so you are better off to store some for those cold winter months. My favorite way to keep mushrooms around is to dry them. After eating my fill of the harvest, and sharing some, I proceded to dry the excess. The process is simple and easy to do! First you clean the mushrooms. This batch was pretty clean since they came off of coffee grounds. I had to rinse them a little and dried them off on paper towels. The mushrooms were then torn along the gills to a mangeable size. This batch was dryed on racks on the counter for several days."
"After a few day of drying the mushrooms looked like this. Notice how they have shrunken up since mushrooms are mostly water!"
"When drying large amounts of mushrooms or meaty mushrooms, we use a dehydrator. The main thing is to make sure they are completely dry before you jar them up. At this point they go into labeled mason jars for storage. When rehydrating mushrooms you can boil them a bit in water. Make sure you use or save the broth. This is where the flavor is! Rehydrating in milk works well, especially if you are going to flour and fry them or make gravy. I like to throw them in soups or sauces and let them rehydrate in the liquid of the dish. Mushroom soups made from dried mushrooms are excellent and in most cases, better than fresh mushroom soup. So pick when you can, eat all you can, and store the rest. You will be very happy you did on those months when the mushrooms are not flushing!"
Thanks Dean at Montana Mushrooms. As soon as our tree starts to produce I am going to try this. Plus I am going to try and grow some on coffee grounds. I am also going to string torn oysters up above our woodburnrning stove and see how that turns out. Will report back later.
For more information on foraging for oyster mushrooms see Maddy's blog http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/foraging-oyster-mushrooms