The Pharaohs of Egypt monopolized mushrooms for their own use. They thought they were too delicate to be eaten by common people. The Egyptian potentates did not understand the sudden, overnight appearance of mushrooms, and consequently believed they grew magically. By the first century B.C., the mushroom had gained such a fine reputation among epicures of the Roman Empire that the poet Horace celebrated its goodness in verse. The Romans called mushrooms “food of the gods,” and served them on festive occasions. They were thought to provide warriors with unusual strength.
Up to the seventeenth century, only the wild types of mushrooms found growing in meadows and pastures were known. During the reign of Louis XIV, mushroom · growing was introduced in France. Parisian market gardeners experimented to learn the secrets of successful mushroom culture. By 1749 mushroom beds were cultivated in caves and cellars, and the results were much better’ than ·when they were grown outdoors. The British were raising mushrooms in hothouses sometime before 1700.
The commercial production of mushrooms in the United States started in the late 1890s when a group of florists in Chester County, Pennsylvania started growing them under the benches in their greenhouses. The greatest event in the history of mushroom culture in the United States occurred in 1926 when a farmer found a clump of pure white mushrooms in a bed of uniformly cream-colored fungi. Most of the mushrooms grown today are descendants of this white clump.
Mushrooms are now cultivated in specially constructed buildings that are windowless and in which temperature and humidity are controlled. Mushroom spawn is cultivated by laboratory scientists who sell it to the growers for inoculation of the mushroom beds. Such precise methods are necessary to provide pure spawn of known characteristics.
The introduction of mushrooms into gravies, sauces, soups, and other dishes adds zest and flavor, but they also are a fine food when served as a vegetable . Mushrooms require very little preparation. Wash, cut off the bottom portion of the stem if it has dried, and either slice the caps and stems or leave whole, depending on the method of cooking. Butter a deep pan, cut up the mushrooms so they fill the pan to a depth of about two inches, and simmer over a low· heat until the mushrooms are covered with their own juice. This may take more than ten minutes. Then, cook more briskly for about five minutes, until tender. Overcooking toughens mushrooms.
Green plants can get their food by manufacturing it in their leaves from air, water, sunshine , and soil nutrients, but mushrooms cannot do this. They have no leaves, so they must depend on green plants to make their food for them, and they cannot use it unless it is in the process of decay. Mushrooms propagate from spores, a brownish powder shed from the rounded head which, when ripe, opens like a parasol. However, cultivated mushrooms are not reproduced from spores, but from fine strands of mycelium, which are root like growths that spread through organic material. Most wild mushrooms are not poisonous, but unless you know the difference, you should leave them alone. It is not possible to tell by taste which mushrooms are dangerous. Some very unpalatable mushrooms are harmless, while others that have an agreeable taste are poisonous.
Scientists today say that darkness is not the primary requisite for growing mushrooms. They say that, for healthy growth, all mushrooms need constant temperature and protection against drafts.
The term mushroom refers to a large number of different species and varieties of fleshy fungi. Only one species is usually cultivated and that is Agaricus Campestris, which has a straight stem, a smooth cap of a shade varying from white or ivory to brown, and gills of different shades of pink. Most of the cultivated mushrooms grown in the United States are of the white variety variously known as Snow White, White King, White Queen, etc. This variety is very prolific and is preferred by nearly all markets because of its attractive, clean, white appearance.
Prior to the mid-1940s, all you needed to do to work up a hot argument among nutritionists was to say the word “mushrooms.” Scientists’ assertions about the food value of mushrooms ranged from calling them’ ‘vegetable beefsteak” full of proteins, to declaring that they had no protein and very little else. This confusion arose partly from the fact that mushrooms of many species were investigated and the results reported under a common head. A June 1946 report by William B. Eccelen, Jr. and Carl R. Fellers of the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station stated that cultivated mushrooms of the Agaricus Campestris type compare favorably in food value to many fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mushrooms are among the few rich organic sources of germanium, which increases oxygen efficiency of the body, counteracts the effects of pollutants, and increases resistance to disease. Because mushrooms are extremely low in calories, they are useful in reducing diets. They are also a good source of vitamin B.
NUTRIENTS IN ONE POUND
Protein: 11.9 g
Fat: 1.2 g
Carbohydrates: 19.4 g
Calcium: 26 mg
Phosphorus: 510 mg
Iron: 3.5 mg
Vitamin A: trace
Thiamine: 0.41 mg
Riboflavin: 2.02 mg
Niacin: 18.6 mg
Ascorbic acid: 14 mg