Since we’re all stuck in the house courtesy of torrential rain for days on end, I’ve been sitting here trying to work out the gardening plan for spring, oohing and aahing over seeds and trying to imagine spots for beds where the dog will be least likely to go trampling through them. Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep my potted herbs—thyme, rosemary, and believe it or not, basil—alive in the midst of some seriously dim days. Fortunately, my latest indoor growing experiment is less fussy about direct sunlight.

On my visit to the last day of the Saturday farmer’s market, in addition to a passel of heavy winter squash, I couldn’t resist lugging home a shiitake mushroom kit from Rain Forest Mushrooms. I didn’t get around to opening it up until Thanksgiving, several weeks later, and to be perfectly honest, when I ripped open the bag, I thought that maybe I had wasted thirty bucks by waiting too long to get started. Nevertheless, I soaked the slightly scary-looking lump in water for a few hours, and made it a new home in a container lined with newspaper and a plastic lid. Then I left it alone in a corner, half forgotten, until the week before Christmas, when I suddenly noticed it was doing this:

Mushrooms popping out all over like popcorn, some almost doubling in size every day. I gave them until a few days after Christmas, and decided I had better harvest the biggest specimens before the living room starts looking like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

For something I can grow indoors in the dead of winter, shiitake mushrooms are incredibly healthy: They have antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering, and immune-boosting properties, the latter of which we can clearly use since I feel the start of yet another cold coming on.  From what I was told, I may be able to harvest from this kit up to six times for a total of 3 pounds or more of mushrooms. At the rate they are growing, I am not convinced we will be able to eat them all along the way, but fortunately, mushrooms are incredibly easy to dry and reconstitute for later use.

I harvested about a third of a pound of shiitakes for dinner the other night to make a hearty chicken fricassee that I served over bulgur. The carcass of the chicken, along with the mushroom stems and some assorted vegetable trimmings, took a nice warm bath in my crockpot overnight. But there are still tons more to eat up, and if I wasn’t already impressed with the mushroom kit, the pristine cleanliness and obvious freshness of the shiitakes certainly tipped the scales.

Mushrooms and I have never been friends, and if you are in the same boat, I would highly recommend giving a mushroom growing kit a try. Not only will it produce the epitome of fresh mushrooms, watching them spring up practically out of thin air may help pique your curiosity. And if you are already a mushroom fan, can you give me some ideas of what to do with all these shiitakes, before they start coming out our ears?

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