Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Mushrooms
© Paula Trites


Mushrooms are not really vegetables because they're not really plants.

Most plants use sunlight to "photosynthesize" to create their own food (the sunlight provides the energy for plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose.) Mushrooms can't do this; instead, they get their food from other plants, usually dead ones, but not always (some will live off of live trees.)

Mushrooms have underground roots. Mushrooms actually grow for quite some time underground before we see them. The aboveground part, what we think of as the mushroom, is basically the "fruit" of the mushroom -- it is grown to create, hold and distribute the "spores", which are the seeds of the mushroom.

Thin filaments called the "gills" grow under a mushroom's cap, where they are protected from rain. The gills produce the mushroom's spores. Not all mushrooms have gills -- for instance, porcini mushrooms don't. Some mushrooms have gills attached right to the stalk; others have gills that aren't attached or only barely. The surface of the gills are covered with a layer called the "hymenium" which produces the spores.

Not all mushrooms have stalks. When mushrooms have a ring around their stalk, that ring is called the "annulus." Almost all mushrooms need spore from another mushroom to pollinate them in order to produce a mushroom. Agaricus Mushrooms are an exception to this.

Organic mushrooms may be a bit of a con. Most growers don't need to use chemicals, anyway, because cultivated mushrooms have to be grown in sterile environments -- and remember, anything such as chemicals is an added expense for producers, so if they can avoid using them, they will.

Mushroom Spawn is mushroom spore mixed with sterilized grain. The spore is then allowed to germinate on the grain. Suppliers sell the mushroom spawn to mushroom farmers.

Many Foodies advise only to buy pure white mushrooms whose caps haven't opened yet. This is probably by association with fruit and vegetables: when browning happens to them, it is generally a bad thing. As far as mushrooms go, though, it's really a matter of what you prefer. What the Foodies should be saying is, if you don't like strong mushroom tastes, or if you are cooking for kiddies and need to keep everything as inoffensive as possible as you introduce them to new things, then choose the pure white young ones -- because they hardly have any flavour.

Mushrooms generally reach supermarkets within a day of picking, because everyone wants to buy them while they are pure white. The darker the white button mushroom, however, the richer the flavour. Flavour only starts to develop as the cap opens up and the mushroom develops, and the kicker is, these are the ones that get marked down. Enjoy them at bargain prices while you can -- remember what happened to Cremini mushrooms. When they got "old", dark and big, no one would buy them so they used to just throw them out. Then someone gave the older, bigger, darker ones a new name and presto -- Portobello Mushrooms were born, with a premium price to boot.

What causes dishes to darken when you add mushrooms to them is the spores coming out into what you are cooking. Young white mushrooms haven't had a chance to develop those spores yet. If you making a light or clear dish, then you will probably want to use the white button mushrooms. Otherwise, if you actually want good tasting mushrooms, get the ones that everyone else leaves behind.

In Japanese cooking, mushrooms are almost never eaten raw, always cooked.

Half the mushrooms grown in America are grown in the south-east corner of Pennsylvania.

Autumn Mushrooms

In nature, these grow in the autumn, as the name would imply. They tend to have rich, earthy flavours that can stand up well to strong tastes like garlic. They will also fry up well and hold their taste through it.

Spring Mushrooms

In nature, these grow in the spring. In England, for instance, St George's Mushrooms always start to appear on St George's Day, the 23rd of April. Spring Mushrooms tend to have a milder, more delicate taste that is better with other milder flavours.

Cooking Tips

Don't soak or peel mushrooms (some wild mushrooms are an exception and will need either soaking to dislodge insects, or peeling to remove skin that may cause stomach upsets.) If you soak them in water, they will sop it up like a sponge and get mooshy.


Otherwise, just rinse very lightly under cold running water, and use your fingers to loosen and wash off any bits of clingy soil mix. Some people say to just wipe them clean with a damp paper towel, as mushrooms are grown under hygienic situations anyway. This doesn't seem sufficient, given that at the supermarket someone who has just wiped her kid's nose may have then been digging with her hands through the mushroom bins. Not that cold running water is going to do a lot about germs, either, but still.

Pat dry with paper towelling.

Most mushrooms you use stalk and all. You just trim and discard the thinnest slice off the end of the stalk, and then chop or slice as needed. Some mushroom stalks, such as those of Portobello, are too tough to be eaten raw: these can be tossed in the freezer for future use either in a stock, or chopped and incorporated into a recipe. If your recipe calls for just mushroom caps, you can pull the stalks out with a gentle twist and tug. Sometimes the recipes will have you chop up the stalks and incorporate these into what you are making. If it doesn't, bag and freeze these as well for future use.

Some recipes will have you remove the gills from larger mushrooms. This has nothing to do with the gills being bad for you: far from it. Rather, it's usually to make room for more stuffing to go in. If you do these, toss the gills into a small freezer bag and freeze for future use. At the price you paid for those mushrooms, why not? A good deal of a mushrooms flavour is in those gills.

Mushrooms are better cooked quickly than slowly. Add to dishes in the last 15 and 20 minutes of cooking.

To sauté: heat oil or butter in a large frying pan (use about 1 tablespoon of fat per 1/2 pound / 225g of mushrooms). Add mushrooms, and cook and stir for about 5 minutes, uncovered. At that time they should be golden and ready to serve or use. If your mushrooms seem to be steaming but not gaining any colour, you may have put too many mushrooms in too small a pan.

To microwave: no butter, water or oil is technically required. Put half your mushrooms in a covered bowl, place in microwave, and zap on high until they begin to water. Then stir in the remainder of the mushrooms. For 1/2 pound mushrooms (225g), sliced, cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes. The idea with adding the remainder partway through when there is some juice is that mushrooms that aren't covered in some kind of liquid in the microwave can come out tasting a bit odd. For even better taste, toss the mushrooms at the start in chopped garlic and two tablespoons of oil or melted butter.

If you are microwaving mushroom caps for a stuffed mushroom recipe, be careful not to overcook them as they will shrivel if over-zapped.

To grill or broil: brush large mushrooms with oil or melted butter, season to taste, and grill about 5 minutes on each side. You may baste them with more melted butter or oil during grilling.

If you are planning on serving fried mushrooms as a side dish, allow about 6 oz / 175g raw per person.

Nutrition

Mushrooms have some trace amounts of riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid (which helps the bodies to produce hormones and our nervous systems to function.) Beyond that, not really much nutritional value -- they are mostly enjoyed for their flavour and texture.


Mushrooms are about 90% water.

Fresh and dried mushrooms have no sodium in them, but canned mushrooms can be very high in sodium: anywhere from 500 to 800mg of sodium and up per 8 oz / 1 cup, drained (284 ml / 10 oz can before draining.) Draining the tin of mushrooms, then emptying them into a bowl of water and swooshing them around may wash some of the sodium off.

Fresh mushrooms are 0 Weight Watchers PointsPlus® when consumed on their own. In a recipe, the cost is 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus® per 500g (17 1/2 oz.)

Equivalents

1/2 pound (225g) fresh sliced mushrooms = 2 cups fresh sliced = 1 cup cooked

750g (1.65 pounds) fresh large white or chestnut mushrooms, quartered = 8 cups volume
4 oz sliced mushrooms, canned = 2/3 cup drained
1 pound (450g) fresh mushrooms = 12 oz tinned, undrained = 6 oz (170g) drained = 20 to 30 medium mushrooms = 3 oz (85g) dried = 6 cups fresh slices = 2 cups sliced and cooked

Storage Hints

The main principle behind storing mushrooms is that you want to discourage sweating, moisture accumulation and condensation during the short time that you can keep them, as this will cause them to spoil even faster.


First, don't wash them before you are ready to use them. Secondly, store in fridge. If they have come in a shrink-wrapped container, remove the plastic wrapping. Ideally, the best thing to store them in is a paper bag, as the paper gives you the right combination of letting excess moisture out while keeping enough in. If you haven't got a paper bag, wrap them in a paper towel, and then put them in a plastic bag whose top is left partly open. Use within 4 days.

To freeze, don't blanch them before freezing. (a) This is not needed and (b) it will make them go tough. Just wash, pack in plastic bags or containers, seal and freeze. You can freeze them first or slice them so that they are ready to go (that way you can just scoop out handfuls and fling into things on the fly,) Freeze for up to 3 to 4 months. When they thaw, they will be good for frying, sautéing, or using in cooked dishes such as stews, soups, meat loaves, pâtés, risottos, etc. Freezing concentrates their taste and makes it richer and heartier: some will say that mushrooms don't freeze well, but that would be those who don't like their mushrooms to have any taste.

Don't thaw frozen mushrooms before using: just fling them into what you are cooking.

History Notes

Button Mushrooms

Button Mushrooms
© Denzil Green

Greeks and Romans considered mushrooms delicacies.


The Romans used the word "fungus" to refer to mushrooms, toadstools and all fungus in general, and Boletus to refer to mushrooms. A Boletus was used to poison Claudius, introduced by his cook Locusta under the orders of Agrippina, his fourth wife. Claudius died aged 64 within 12 hours of eating the mushrooms. She killed him because Claudius had decided that his own son would succeed him, but Agrippina wanted the position of Emperor to go to her son, Nero. Nero ironically referred to this mushroom as the "food of the gods" for knocking off his uncle / step-father, Claudius.

Now we use the word "Amanita" to designate the group of the deadliest of mushrooms, but the Romans seem to have used the word "Amanita" to mean a kind of good mushroom, as the writer Galen recorded that Amanita was good to eat.

Champignon in French is a generic word for mushrooms and toadstools, coming from the word "champ", meaning "field".

Only the English language distinguishes between mushrooms and toadstools.

The first book on mushroom growing was Mushrooms: How to Grow Them; A Practical Treatise on Mushroom Culture for Profit and Pleasure, written in 1891 by William Falconer of Dosoris, Long Island. Gripping reading for those restless nights.

Up to 1903, America was importing mushroom spores from England that was in poor shape by the time it arrived. In that year, United States Department of Agriculture scientists developed their own reliable source of spawn. Synthetic manure to grown mushrooms in was developed in 1930.

Techniques for cultivating wild mushrooms on sawdust were developed in the 1950s.

Literature & Lore

"Life is too short to stuff a mushroom." -- Margaret Storm Jameson (English novelist, 1891 - 1986).


"The grisly todestool grown there mought I see, And loathed paddocks lording on the same.." -- Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). "Faery Queen".

"Mushrooms Mrs. Rorer regards as a desirable food because of their exceedingly nitrogenous character. They will give you meat value. There are 135 varieties of mushrooms. In the locality in which Mrs Rorer resides many of the people are afraid to eat them and so, she laughingly declared, it leaves about ten bushels for herself. Among puff balls are no poisonous varieties." -- Jorgenson, Judith. Around The Evening Lamp. Des Moines, Iowa: Des Moines Daily News. 2 June 1896. Page 2.

Language Notes

The English word mushroom comes the French word "mouceron" (older French: mousseron), which meant just the "A. prunulus" variety which would grow in moss, thus the name. Someone who eats mushrooms is called a "mycophagist." The study of mushrooms is called "mycology."

Acknowlegements