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Food Fetishes

Fungus Among Us

Ash, the author of From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine, likes to brush whole or thickly sliced mushrooms with olive oil or butter, season with salt and pepper, and then either roast, broil or grill them. "Handle them gently," he urges. Cooked like this, mushrooms can also be frozen for later use.

John Hammond hasn't tired of eating mushrooms yet, but he keeps his mushroom cookery simple. He recently saw a recipe for "some godawful polenta terrine thing," he says. "I try to avoid garbling the taste." He likes cooking shiitake caps with margarine and Parmesan cheese and barbecuing his portobellos and king oysters.

Hammond's mushroom-growing business started in California 22 years ago with a warehouse and one employee. There wasn't much information available on growing mushrooms then, and he proceeded through expensive trial and error. When cheap Chinese shiitakes flooded the West Coast market, Hammond switched to organic methods. He moved to Colorado in 1993 but kept his California farm going. Four years later, he established a mushroom farm here.

Raising mushrooms in Colorado has been a challenge. "You've got to beat the climate, because it's either too hot or too cold -- and it's always too dry," he says. Still, it's fun "to take an old farm, rip out the walls and create conditions you can grow mushrooms in."

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