Mushrooms -

Both in their own varieties and by general custom, in this country especially, present a curiously interesting study in contradictions. By the quantities which grow wild, and by the ease with which they may be raised, they would seem to be a food especially useful to the poor - instead, it is chiefly the well-to-do who eat them. They are overlooked or distrusted by country residents who can have them for the picking - yet epicures and the wealthier classes in the cities pay high prices for them and consider them delicious luxuries!

The general explanation is, that the majority are afraid of MUSHROOMS because of the poisonous fungi which resemble them - yet many tribes of savages who are certainly not more intelligent in other respects, appreciate them and devour them in great quantities - the natives of Terra del Fuego, for example, live almost exclusively on MUSHROOMS and fish.

Again, though MUSHROOMS have been cultivated for at least two thousand years, and have been for generations raised in enormous and ever-increasing quantities in France, Italy, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, for home consumption and export, it is only within recent years that intelligible information concerning their growth has been generally obtainable here - there existed formerly an air of mystery on the subject, as though mushroom cultivation were a cross between accident and magic! England has been under a similar blight of misinformation and prejudice, though not to quite the same extent as this country.

Eastern countries are the greatest per capita consumers, with Japan and China well in the lead. Japan made an attractive exhibit of many varieties at the Chicago World's Fair, and both Japan and China export dried MUSHROOMS to the United States and Europe.

The general title of "MUSHROOMS" is here used, as popularly employed, to cover all kinds of edible fungi except truffles, though they vary considerably in shape, size, and color. They are found in nearly all temperate regions and in every part of the world, growing wild most freely in the spring and autumn - in forests, or chards, vineyards and pastures. Many varieties are agreeable in flavor and rich in food value.

The mushroom is not, as generally understood, the plant or fungus itself - it is the fruit of the growth which produces it and which remains underground - a white or bluish mold called mycelium or "spawn," a network mass of thin thread-like roots or underground stems. The mushroom or "fruit," when mature, diffuses a quantity of the powder or "spores," generally dark in color, by which the fungus extends its propagation. Artificial cultivation of the mushroom by "spores" is slow and uncertain, so the "spawn," which is sold in both "cake" and "flake" form, is used instead.

Any place is suitable for cultivation which is moderately cool and moist, even in temperature and away from direct sunlight. A cellar is the best ordinary example, but growing on a large scale is generally done in caves, closed tunnels, abandoned quarries or specially constructed "mushroom houses" - usually wooden buildings partly below and partly above ground. The spawn is planted in beds of mixed manure and earth, with a final covering of the latter. When the crop is well under way, the beds are picked once or twice a day for every mushroom large enough for market, as they are choicer for eating before fully matured and while the "veil" over them is still unbroken - after that time they are generally used for catsup, etc.

The following list briefly describes the principal edible varieties. The orange, Brick Top, Rodman, Peppery Lactarius, Parasol, Ink Cap, Fary Club and Oyster Mushroom - as also the Puff Ball described under its own heading. The Common Mushroom, Boletus, Cantharellus or Chanterelle, Fairy Ring, morel and Vegetable Beefsteak are depicted on the accompanying COLOR PAGE.

COMMON OR CULTIVATED MUSHROOM (Agaricus Campestris): the most generally acceptable type in this country and England, and the common Champignon Comestible of the French canned product. It is found wild during the late summer and fall in grassy places, manured ground, etc. - never in thick woods. The wild types grow either singly or in groups, but the cultivated often form large tufts. The fruit consists of a central stalk, generally cream or white in color and from two to three inches in height, supporting a rounded, table-like cap, varying in the color of its upper surface from white to a deep brown. The under surface of the cap is marked with gill-like projections, generally pink in the white or cream cap varieties, and grey-brown in the brown kinds, changing in the former to brown and in the latter to brownish-black - in dried specimens to almost or quite black. The flesh is white. It is served in many ways, both raw and cooked - being considered especially delicious broiled.

BUTTON MUSHROOM. The most highly valued of this class is the French Mousseron, the true type of which is the Champignon Muscat, of the Agaric family. It is of medium size, the stem short, thick, full and swelling at the base; the cap thick, whitish-yellow on top and covered with a very dry skin. It grows most freely in greensward and on the outskirts of woods, and is one of the first to appear in the early spring. It is gathered when in the "button" or round stage and generally when the cap is quite small. On maturity it becomes bell-shaped. It is very pleasing in flavor and is marked by a distinct musk aroma which it retains even after drying.

Large quantities are imported, both dried and canned, in oil, etc., and there is an increasing output of the home-grown product. Care should be taken to avoid over-cooking, as that destroys the musk odor.

For lesser grades of "button" MUSHROOMS, many other varieties of both Agarics and Gymnopes are gathered in the button stage.

orange (the French Oronge) or orange AMANITA (Amanita Caesarea): a large variety with cap usually nearly flat on maturity and of orange color. It is found generally in the sandy soil of thinly wooded districts during the summer and early fall and is distinguished from nearly all other edible varieties by the yellow color of its gills. The flesh is white with occasional yellow stains and of delicate and pleasing flavor. It grows abundantly in Southern Europe and is imported here canned in oil.

The orange Amanita has been accounted a delicacy for centuries - as far back as the days of the Roman Empire.

Boletus (the French Cèpes). The several varieties of the Boletus family of fungi are distinguished from the ordinary mushroom principally by small tubes or holes taking the place of the gills under the cap. They find much favor in France and Germany, and grow freely in this country also. Among the best of the types commonly found are the Granulated Boletus, named for the small brown granules dotting the stem - the cap, which is from one and a half to four inches broad, varying widely in color; the Rough Stemmed Boletus, the stem roughened with small prominent reddish or blackish dots or scales, the cap varying from white to nearly black, and the Edible Boletus, one of the largest kinds, the cap, of varying color, ranging up to six inches broad. All three types find much favor in France and Germany, and the last-named is imported in considerable quantities, chiefly from France, preserved in olive oil, sauces, etc., being generally known by the French title of Cèpes. It is noted for its strong flavor.

CHANTARELLE: a variety of the Cantharellus family, which grows in nearly every part of the world and has always been highly esteemed in Europe. Its cap, generally convex but sometimes flat and even centrally depressed, is of varying and irregular shape, but it is distinguished by its beautiful, rich reddish-yellow or egg-yellow color, which extends to all parts of the plant except the white inner flesh. The gills are in the form of shallow folds growing down the stem. It is most commonly found in the woods in groups, but also often in open grounds.

morel, Morchella (the French Morille): most frequently found in forests and woodland swamps. It is known by its rather conical, deeply honey-combed, light yellowish-brown head, growing darker with age. It is excellent - tender and sweet - either stewed as a vegetable or in sauces, etc. Its principal types are the Common, Delicious, Two-Spored, Conical and Narrow Cap. Though here described among mushroom types, the "morel" botanically is more nearly allied to the truffle type of fungus.

BRICK TOP OR REDDISH MUSHROOM (Hypholoma Sublateritium): resembling the Common Mushroom somewhat in general contour, but with stem generally longer and top more rounded and of a reddish color with pale yellow border. The gills change from creamy to olive. The flesh is creamy and of a pronounced almond flavor.

RODMAN'S MUSHROOM (Agaricus Rodmani): similar in many respects to the Common Mushroom. The cap is creamy, with brownish spots; the gills change from white to pink and then to dark brown; the stem is short, fleshy and thick, and the flesh is white with pinkish tint and of pleasing flavor. It is most frequently found during May, June and July in grassy grounds.

LACTARIUS: a genus marked by the milky or colored juice which exudes from the gills when broken. The Peppery Lactarius has a creamy-white fleshy cap, from three to ten inches in width, depressed toward the center. The gills are creamy white and exude a white milk when bruised. The flesh is lighter in color than the surface of the cap and is peppery in flavor and somewhat aromatic. Its favorite habitat is woodland during the summer. Another common type is the orange milk Mushroom or Delicious Lactarius, found in woods and damp mossy places. When young, its cap is convex, but as it matures it becomes flat and sometimes funnel shaped. In color, it is a mottled orange. The flesh is white tinged with orange, firm, delicate and nutritious, and the "milk" is orange colored. In size it varies, in the cap, from two to five inches in diameter.

HORSE OR FIELD MUSHROOM (Agaricus Arcensis): resembles the Common Mushroom, but averages larger and may be distinguished by its hollow, somewhat bulbous stem. The cap when dried is apt to assume a yellowish hue.

PARASOL MUSHROOM or TALL LEPIOTA (Lepiota Procera). The cap, on top of a long stem with a bulbous base, is shaped like an open umbrella, the upper surface, three to five inches in diameter, covered with small scales and of a brownish, spotted appearance with a dark center. The flesh is thin, white and soft.

INK CAPS or INKY COPRINUS (Coprinus Atramentarius). The genus Coprinus are readily distinguished by their oblong caps, which do not open until they are about to dissolve into the inky fluid which gives them their popular name. They should be gathered before they show any sign of expanding and must be cooked without delay, their flesh then being decidedly palatable. They are harmless even in the inky stage, but they do not present an attractive appearance by any means! The life of the Ink Cap above ground is very brief - it pushes through the soil in great numbers and develops and dissolves very rapidly.

FAIRY RING MUSHROOM, Marasmius Oreades (the French Mousseron d'automne): a small variety found principally in the autumn, in meadows, on lawns, etc., in wet weather or after heavy rains. It is so called because of its habit of growing in rings or circles. When young, the cap, from one to two inches in diameter, is reddish, yellowish-red or yellowish-brown, becoming paler in maturing or as its moisture evaporates. When dry, it is generally of a buff color. Its flesh is inclined to be tough except when fresh or young, but careful cooking makes it very palatable - broiled, pickled, in sauces, etc.

In many parts of France, the Fairy Ring is popularly known as the "False Mousseron" or "Fall Mousseron," because of its similarity in shape of cap to the Mousseron type (see BUTTON MUSHROOMS, preceding).

FAIRY CLUBS and CORALS. The genus Clavariaccae includes a number of fleshy, club-shaped and coral-like fungi, many of which are edible. Some of them are very beautiful, showing the most delicate shades of pink, yellow, violet, etc. They range from very small to several inches in height.

Arround Mushrooms in The Grocer's Encyclopedia


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