Cultivating death

Words by Samuel Moppett
Photography by Leo Williams

      Cynan Jones gets inside mushrooms heads cheating them into thinking they are about to die. Picturing Midsomer Murders (a countryside soap classic for those not in the know), with great woodlands full of fungi big and small, glowing and creeping as the early morning mist ran itself over the hills and the river quietly flowed between cobbled bridges and quiet houses, lights switching on and smoke arising from the tiny elongated chimneys, we were at first underwhelmed.

“They aren’t roots because
fungi aren’t plants, and they’re not plants because fungi can’t generate their own food.”

    All that lay in front of us were four shipping containers shoved into a corner by an old barn. But then out came Cynan Jones and all was well. He is one of Wales’ leading fungi experts and tirelessly runs an environmentally friendly local business that doesn’t compromise on quality.

    Cynan declares “Going out foraging, it's always an adventure, as you never know what you’re going to find.” A bloody good motto if you ask me.

  In the wild, you get mushrooms forming on the wood itself. “We use wood chip, sawdust and plainings because the mushroom can get at its food quicker. The whole process lasts twelve weeks from beginning to end.” 

    Cynan cultivates his mushrooms commercially by mimicking nature. “Mushrooms need some kind of stimulus, a shock to get the bodies to form (the stalks and the caps, the things that we see). That stimulus is the change in the seasons when summer starts getting cooler, the temperatures drop and humidity starts rising. That’s the tool to get the mushrooms to form. The mushroom thinks I’d better fruit before I die.”

“Going out foraging,
it's always an adventure.”

    In this quiet row of houses on the hillside, Cynan and June produce world class mushrooms, supplying chefs across the globe, and their innovative approach has helped from pickling to seasoning.

   Drying the mushrooms does something special ― it concentrates their flavours. For example, the shiitake mushroom is very meaty with a strong texture, and a strong smoky and earthy flavour which complements rich foods. The oyster mushroom is more subtle, with a soft fragrance and slightly
nutty taste.

    They blitz the dried mushrooms for seasoning too. It is impressive how one courageous mushroom can have such an array of marvellous textures, flavours and colours. 

    Agrarian shipping containers included, this is magical produce cultivated by an inviting and down-to-earth couple. Long live the Mushroom Garden and its fungi. Maybe one day I will get my own fairy tale shipping container full.