One of my favorite books is called “The Wonder of Food.” Published in 1961, it was written by two men, K. Cyrus Melikian and Lloyd Rudd, who were partners in a food-supply business. They spent endless hours talking about food, doing scrupulous research and finally had so much material that they wrote this book. They earned the title of First Class Foodies.

Early in life I developed a wonder and appreciation for food. One of the highlights of my life was helping my mother bake bread; blending the ingredients, the power of kneading the dough and the pleasure of seeing the loaves come out of the oven.

Gathering berries, picking apples off the tree and the excitement of gathering wild mushrooms remain as thrilling experiences that have influenced my life.

I have always been intrigued by mushrooms. In the cellar of our house in Pennsylvania, my mother grew mushrooms and they have been part of my diet throughout my life.

Mushrooms are so unique; almost a mysterious member of the food culture.

Mushrooms have been savored at least as far back as Egyptian times. Considered a delicacy, they were reserved for the Pharaoh’s table and are depicted in hieroglyphic drawings. The Romans prized mushroom as well, calling them the “food of the gods.” They also learned the dangers connected with consuming mushrooms when Emperor Claudius is said to have been killed by a serving of mushrooms.

Mushrooms have inspired countless superstitions, including the belief that edible varieties must be gathered by moonlight and stories about “fairy rings,” alluding to the circular pattern in which mushroom colonies grow. Folk stories contributed to the fear of mushrooms in England and other parts of Europe that persisted even after they were cultivated. However, some nationalities, notably the French, Italians, Russians and Poles became enthusiastic supporters of mushrooms and most of the most creative recipes have come from them.

Throughout Asia, mushrooms have always been appreciated for their health benefits as well as their flavor. The Japanese learned almost 2,000 years ago how to cultivate shiitake mushrooms.

In the 1870s, the French began to cultivate them commercially in an abandoned limestone quarry outside of Paris. Those early crops were called champignons and this designation is still used by professional chefs.

It wasn’t until early in the 20th century that mushrooms were introduced to the American public. A group of European immigrants began growing them in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and this continues throughout Pennsylvania, which produces more than half of the domestic supply. California is next with about 15 percent.

Botanically, mushrooms are fungi that originate with spores, not seeds. Mushroom farms are actually climate-controlled buildings and, instead of soil, the crop grows to maturity on beds of compost or pressed sawdust logs.

Below we have information on seven varieties of cultivated mushrooms. However, we have not included wild mushrooms; that’s another story.

WHITE: By far the most popular variety, white or button mushrooms are classified scientifically as Agaricus bisporus. They range in size from small to jumbo “stuffers” and are creamy white in color. With their mild and pleasing flavor, white mushrooms can be cooked by virtually any method or served raw in salads or with dips.

CRIMINI: (Also, crimini or baby portabella) Light tan to brown, crimini mushrooms also belong to the Agaricus family. They have a more “mushroomy” flavor than the closely related whites and can be prepared in the same ways. Crimini are especially prized for the meaty richness they add to sauces, vegetarian dishes and stir fries.

PORTABELLA: These are simply mature crimini that have grown in size and opened to reveal their veils. Preferred cooking methods for these robust-tasting mushrooms include grilling or broiling, roasting and sautéing.

SHIITAKE: With their parasol shape, medium-brown caps, curved stems and exposed white gills, shiitake mushrooms are easy to spot. Their earthy flavor and dense texture are equally distinctive. Although their origin is Japanese, shiitake mushrooms are as appropriate for pasta and steak sauces as for Asian dishes.

ENOKI: Attractive clusters of enoki mushrooms, with their tiny caps and slender stems, are first and foremost a garnish for soups, main dishes and salads. They are delightfully crunchy, with a mild flavor and should be cooked briefly or not at all.

MAITAKE: (Also known as hen of the woods) New to many Americans, maitake mushrooms range in size from 8 ounces to1-1/2 pounds of leafy clusters. In Japanese, maitake means “dancing,” which suggests their lively flavor and woodsy aroma. Maitake stand up well to grilling, but they also benefit from gently simmer in broth.

OYSTER: The caps of these velvety, delicate-tasting mushrooms are shaped like oyster shells. Although most are soft gray, oysters come in other colors, but when heated they all turn gray. Oyster mushrooms should be cooked briefly and are at home in Asian-type soups, stir-fries, and sauces.

Full Article: Naples News.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This