Ingredient of the Week, April 4: Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a member of the fungi family. There are so many varieties of mushrooms, both edible and toxic, that mass consumption is pretty much limited to those commercially-grown varieties which can be trusted to be edible.
Fear of mushroom poisoning pervades every culture, sometimes reaching phobic extremes. The term mycophobic describes those individuals and cultures where fungi are looked upon with fear and loathing.
But ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms were the plant of immortality 4600 years ago. The delicious flavor of mushrooms intrigued the pharaohs of Egypt so much that they decreed that mushrooms were food for royalty and that no commoner could ever touch them. This assured themselves the entire supply of mushrooms. In various other civilizations throughout the world including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, mushroom rituals were practiced. Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super- human strength, help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the gods.
In the 1800's, France was growing mushrooms for the market, and they soon traveled to America.
Due to the fact that growing was limited by the temperature and humidity of season, mushrooms were planted in the fall and harvested in winter and spring. Fresh mushrooms were, therefore, hard to come by in the summer. Until the 1940's there was only one mushroom available on the market, the brown Italian, that we now call the crimini. With the availability of air conditioning, that mushroom farmers of the past did not have, mushrooms can be grown year-round. Even though technology has come a long way to make commercial mushroom production easier, it is still not an easy process. Mushroom growing begins in the a sterile conditions of a laboratory, where the mushroom spores (or spawn) are created. From this point, the mushroom farmer must take care of all conditions, including temperature, humidity, sterilization, darkness control, water control, etc.
Do you like them or hate them? If you like them how do you cook them? Which ones are your favorites? Have you ever gone hunting for wild ones?
With all the work of mushroom farmers, past and present, we are all able to enjoy mushrooms anytime. There are many varieties of delicious mushrooms to choose from, including Agaricus (white mushroom), Crimini (brown), Shiitake, Oyster, Enoki, Portabella and many more !