Carlson: Another Reason to Shop

This log will sprout some tasty stuff. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonThis log will sprout some tasty stuff. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Have I mentioned how much Nan and I love Minnetrista’s Farmers Market?

If not, I should have long ago. That’s because it is undoubtedly one of the coolest things about living in Muncie, being a great place to buy wonderful food, slurp excellent coffee and meet old friends or make new ones on Saturday mornings.

Two weeks ago, for example, I wound up sitting on the patio with a fellow from southern Illinois. Strangers just minutes before, in no time we were engaged in a conversation about some of the things which stir our deepest, most intimate feelings.

Like, in my case, sausage.

“Smell (gurgle) that?” I said juicily, swooning while drooling all over my coffee cup and my pants as the enticing smoky aroma of browning pork drifted over our way from Grand Grilling to Go’s charcoal pits.

But my new friend gave me a bit of a blank look.

“I prefer salads!” he answered.

“Uh,” I gasped. “Say what?”

Now, based on my dubious inflection and my squint of disbelief, any witness would have suddenly believed there was a culinary chasm between us that six full racks of barbecued spareribs couldn’t bridge. And there was, at first. But then I told myself, wait a minute. Just because there were a whole bunch of little sausage chunks stuck in my teeth at the time, don’t be such a meat-munching cretin. I mean, if you crave incredibly fresh salads, buddy, you can’t find better ingredients than at the Farmers Market.

The thing is, I learned something that morning. Just because my ideal Farmers Market haul would be five pounds of pork patties augmented by four fresh pies and maybe some cupcakes, that’s not to say my new friend was wrong for wanting rhubarb stalks and some yummy kale. As the saying goes, to each his, or her, own! This epiphany came to me just in time for my next challenging encounter with Nan, in which I showed considerable wisdom, tact and poise as she proudly carried over her most recent purchase.

“Look!” she said, proudly.

“Wow,” I replied, trying to keep my excitement in check, and doing a damned good job of it. “A stick.”

That’s because it was a stick, one with actual bark on it and everything. Maybe 18 inches long, 2-and-a-half inches in diameter and of a comfortable heft, this piece of cherry wood even had a name, that being attached to one end via a little metal tag: Night Velvet.

I  thought, OK. If Nan has reached the point where she is buying sticks with names on them at the Farmers Market, I suppose it’s time to drive her home. But when she explained that this was a very special stick, it being loaded with the spore of the shiitake mushrooms known as – tada! – Night Velvet, I had a change of heart.

Now, I’ll be frank. My mushroom knowledge is sketchy at best. I know there are the kind you should never eat. I know there are the kind my buddies back in college used to eat whenever they wanted to imagine psychedelic elephants in tie-dye bikinis frolicking to Pink Floyd tunes. And I know there are the kind called morels which, when coated in flour and deep-fried in butter, will convince your taste buds they just found cosmic enlightenment.

But shiitakes? Shiitakes, specifically, of the Night Velvet variety?

Delving deeply into Google, I learned those chubby, traditional-looking mushrooms – often described as “meaty” – are eaten around the globe, taste great, weigh in at just six calories apiece, and offer proven health benefits. So what’s not to like?

Sold for an exceedingly modest sum, what I was now beginning to think of as “our” stick came from Muncie’s Earth Candy Acres and its proprietor, Candice Turner. Her attractive business card guaranteed her range of tasty natural products used “hand-planted organic seeds” that were “nourished through organic practices,” and something else besides.

“Certified – Delish!”

She had me at “cert …”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that on Facebook (, Candice’s place looked like a little piece of heaven, complete with adorable cherubs.

Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about how you turn this stick – or more correctly, log – into a hothouse of shiitake Night Velvet mushroom production. That’s because, while Nan’s main interest will undoubtedly be in growing them, my own interest will undoubtedly be limited to eating them. Suffice it to say, the process involves soaking the log, watering it weekly and keeping it in shade, among a few other simple steps.

Then you wait awhile, and eat.

Tell you what, though, once we begin harvesting, I’ll be glad to give some mushrooms to my new Illinois buddy to dress up his salads, while I fry lots more to top my Grand Grilling to Go sausage patties.

A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.