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Shrooms And Herbal Vinegar

To turn your home into a greenhouse, all you need is a window sill and a basement or closet, advises Gardening Contributor Georgia Raimondi of The Saturday Early Show. Among possible indoor projects are growing Shiitake and button mushrooms, herbs, and making vinegar infused with herbs.

Egyptian Pharaohs were known to enjoy mushrooms, but true cultivation of mushrooms began in France where they were grown in dark, cold caves.

Mushrooms contain twice the protein of most vegetables, and are low in calories and fat. They are also rich in iron, fiber, lipids, amino acids and carbohydrates.

For Shiitake and button mushrooms, start with growing kits that are available online at sites including

  • Place your unopened Shiitake block (made of bran, millet, sawdust and Shiitake mycelium) in the refrigerator for one night. If you are not ready to open the block after the first night, you can keep it in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
  • To activate your mushroom garden, remove the Shiitake block from the refrigerator and tear off the clear plastic bag and discard.
  • Gently remove any loose material that may be on the top of the Shiitake block and discard.
  • Handling from top to bottom, rinse the Shiitake block in the sink with cold tap water so it is clean and ready for mushroom production. Place your Shiitake block on a large dinner plate and pat dry any excess water on the plate or block.
  • Stick one skewer in each of the four corners of the Shiitake block at an outward angle.
  • Open the plastic humidity bag and place the bag over the Shiitake block and skewers (don't tuck under the plate). The skewers help the bag from directly touching the Shiitake block or developing mushrooms. The bag acts like a greenhouse and keeps the humidity high.
  • Keep the Shiitake garden in a spot where it receives indirect light and temperatures ranging between 50-75 degrees. A location with cool night and warmer days works best. Within one day, water droplets (condensation) should begin to form on the inside of the humidity bag. If this does not occur, wet the inside of the bag with tap water. Do this only as needed to maintain condensation. If your bag begins to get so cloudy that you can't see inside, take it off, shake out the excess water, then replace.
  • After 5-10 days, you should notice your first mushrooms begin to emerge, The mushrooms are first seen as small bumps that slowly grow into mature Shiitake mushrooms.
  • Your Shiitake mushrooms are ready to harvest in 7-14 days after they are first seen as small brown/white bumps. Harvest your mushrooms anytime after the Shiitake opens to expose th white gills. At this point, you can remove the bag during the day and replace at night.
  • As the mushrooms mature, you may notice a white fur on the top of the Shiitake. This is natural and is a sign of quality and freshness.
  • Waiting a day or two longer to harvest will allow the mushrooms to grow larger. Full size is reached when the mushroom cap becomes almost flat.
  • To harvest, use a knife or scissors to cut the mushroom off at the stem as close to the block as possible. Trim away any remaining sawdust from the stem of the harvested Shiitake mushroom.
  • Store your harvested Shiitake in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Your mushrooms should stay fresh for approximately two weeks when stored properly.
  • If properly cared for, your Shiitake mushroom garden should produce multiple crops (three or more).
  • Open the box and pull plastic liner to the top edge of the box. Level the compost, making sure to get it evenly into the corners.
  • In a separate container, thoroughly moisten all the contents of the small bag of casing material with at least 3 to 4 cups of water, then spread it over the surface of the compost. Do not press down.
  • Refold the liner over the surface and close the lid. Place the box in an area away from direct sunlight in an area where the temperature is between 70-75 degrees.
  • After 10-15 days, open the box to inspect the growing surface. If a gray-like mold is spreading over the top of most of the soil, cut the liner away from the growing surface. At this stage, mist the surface heavily. If mold is not covering most of the surface, close the liner and check again in 3-5 days.
  • Place the flaps on the top of the box in a tent shape to cut down on drafts and sunlight. Store in a cool place 55-65F. Over the next 7-14 days, mushroom growth appears. At this stage, keep the growing surface slightly damp, but do not over-water.
  • When picking mushrooms, twist gently and lift away. Remove all roots and stumps. With proper care, your kit will continue to produce mushrooms for 3-5 weeks.

You can get herbs in little pots, or it's easy to grow any number of herbs on your window sill. And with a number of herbs you can make herbal vinegar at home. That's much less expensive than purchasing herbal vinegar at gourmet stores.

Herbal vinegar is low in calories and carbohydrates. It can be used in dressings, marinades, sauces, and salsas.

  • Choose herbs that are free of pesticides or herbicides. Pair pungent herbs and spices such as sage, roemary, oregano, and peppercorns with robust vinegar, like balsamic or red wine; more delicate herbs such as basil, chervil or lemon thyme with a light vinegar like rice, cider, or white wine.
  • Gently rinse herbs and pat dry on a paper towel. Cleanliness is important in making vinegar.
  • Place herbs and good quality vinegar in a non-reactive sterilized steeping container such as glass or plastic and cover with non-reactive lid. (Due to chemical interaction, vinegar should not come in contact with metal or aluminum.)
  • Herbal vinegar can be made with a single herb (such as tarragon) or by combining several herbs. For a flavorful vinegar, use one cup of firmly packed fresh herbs to two cups of vinegar.
  • Place in a dark spot at room temperature. Turn and shake contents occasionally.
  • Sample the vinegar after a week or so. For the greatest amount of flavor, herbal vinegar may have to steep for a month.
  • When you are satisfied with the flavor, strain the vinegar through a coffee filter or cheesecloth.
  • Discard the herbs and decant liquid into a sterilized decorative bottle. Add a sprig or two of fresh herbs to garnish.
  • Seal and date.
  • Store in a cool, dark place.

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