At the time when I started to try to grow mushrooms in the 2000’s, the only books easily available were by the mushroom guru and genius Paul Stamets. Of these, I read “Mycelium Running” and “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms”. Both of them are hundreds of pages long, pretty dense textbooks, in which the how-to chapters were somewhat vague on the details (although there is no lack of grand vision for the role of mushrooms in saving the planet). .The only other written source of information was when you actually ordered mushroom spawn. In the 2000’s you could order mushroom spawn from two places in the United States, Paul Stamets’ shop Fungi Perfecti, and Field and Forest in Wisconsin. Luckily, Field and Forest products came with pretty good practical instructions. That’s how we knew how to inoculate those shiitake logs from the earlier letter. But there was really not a good, practical book.
Being a bit of a polyglot, I even scoured the internet for mushroom growing books in Dutch, German, and French. The French language connection turned up one book, “Cultiver les champignons” which seemed practical and which I ordered, but in the end I could not follow. There was another English language book I purchased, "Growing Mushrooms" by Arthur J. Simons from 1972. But it turned out to be about cultivating button mushrooms in basements on horse manure. Maybe not quite relevant...
What was needed was a simple, practical book on growing mushrooms at home for the beginner. Something along the lines of the many great gardening and vegetable growing books. I told Mark, “I am going to write a simple book about growing mushrooms”. He looked at me skeptically. Really? But you have not successfully grown any yet – which was not entirely true; I had grown a pound of oyster mushrooms on old newspaper in a recycled CVS bag, but that’s another story. Well, I said, I have found a fool proof method now – it is growing mushrooms on coffee grounds in a jar, and I am going to write about it. (Growing mushrooms in a jar is actually a method that you can google today and find. I just did a search and found IKEA has directions on it here! Back then, it is not entirely clear to me how I found out about it - maybe IKEA had it even then?)
I went up to our local Starbucks and asked if they would save their coffee grounds for me. Sure, as long as I picked them up end of the day. Which I did. But they had forgotten to put them aside. Come back tomorrow. Which I did, but too late and they had thrown them away. Come back tomorrow. Which I did. But they could not find where they had put them. Come back in the morning when the person who is responsible for this is back. I came one more time, and finally got my bag of day-old coffee grounds! At home, I mixed them up with some mushroom spawn I had ordered and made a nice little row of jars with black mix in them, covered with lids with holes. It’s possible that I had even started to write the directions; for sure I made little drawings of the jars with the coffee grounds and the mycelium in them - this was in the days before there were smart phones. Today of course, I just take a shot of everything and upload it to my writing file, obviating the need for cute little scribbles. Which have been lost. And so have any photos I may have taken. In any case, I was confident that here was the secret mix, and soon, I would be Queen of the Mushroom Book.
Did I come down. Some weeks went by, and instead of nice white mycelium growth that was supposed to happen, I saw a bit of green mold. Oh maybe that is a mistake; the mushroom will take over. Then more green mold, and more and more. In all the jars. One hundred percent. The growing mushrooms on coffee grounds project was a resounding failure. I would not write the simple how-to book on growing mushrooms with whimsical drawings. It was quite the malperformance, and it kept me quiet about mushrooms for a good while.