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Button mushrooms can be used in a variety of dishes.

It seems that the eating of mushrooms is an acquired taste.

Did you ever notice most kids will not eat mushrooms (along with a lot of other foods)? By the time one’s taste buds reach maturity most really like mushrooms or tolerate them.

Mushrooms are also a/k/a (also known as) toadstools are one and the same. They are just called differently throughout the world. For culinary consumption in the United States, they are usually called mushrooms.

Characteristic to both the mushroom and the toadstool is to have a stem, a cap (top) and gills on the underside of the cap.

The gills help the spores spread across the soil and the ground.

My uncle, George Roskos, would go out early in the morning – to collect mushrooms. The best days were damp and misty in the spring. Usually, mushrooms grow on the edge of wooded areas. Mostly around oak, ash and elm trees along with most trees as well as dead or dying trees.

Currently, there are about 50,000 mushrooms, molds and yeasts that are edible. Because many edible and poisonous mushrooms look-alike — you better know what you are looking for. In the United States alone the poisonous ones kill about seven and sickens thousands.

The deadliest mushroom is the Amanita phalloides which is responsible for 90% of worldwide mushroom-related fatalities. This variety is known as the “death cap.”

Assuming Uncle George knew what he was doing as no one that eats his mushrooms were among the seven who died. Or get sick from eating them. It is much easier to buy mushrooms at the market or farm stands than to collect your own in the wilds.

The top five most used in cooking and in eating are white button, crimino, portabello, shitake and oyster. All mushrooms have their own flavor profile and characteristics.

Besides culinary use mushrooms are used in dyes for wool and natural fibers. As well as “tinder fungi” a fire starter.

Nearby Kennett Square in Chester County is known as “The Mushroom Capital of the World”.

It all started in 1885 when a Quaker flower grower from the area was looking for a way to use the wasted space under raised flower beds. There are still several Quaker growers in the Kennett Square area. Laid-off Italian workers from a stone quarry were hired to handle some of the labor. These workers started their own farms. By the 1950s there were hundreds of mushroom farms owned by Italians.

It was the manure produced in the area that lends itself to an abundant growth of spores. Along with the difficult task of the mushroom workers. The area still has many farms.

But the workers moved on to jobs outside the industry. “Big farms are getting bigger and small farms are folding.” There are only about 60 farms remaining of the 100’s there was once producing.

Today, most of the workers are from Mexico. Mushroom workers are a step up from seasonal workers. They do not have to follow crops like strawberries, tomatoes and other crops. Mushroom harvest is all year around. So, they are able to settle down and stay in one place.

Each year the town of Kennett Square presents a street festival featuring mushrooms for a weekend or maybe it was a week. The year that I was asked to judge one of the Cook-Off Competitions there were 40 chefs and cooks who completed and prepared their best mushroom recipe.

The festival newspaper featured this recipe. It proves that mushrooms can be incorporated with sweets as well as being savory. 

MUSHROOM CHOCOLATE COOKIES

½ cup butter or margarine

1 cup brown sugar – firmly packed

1 egg

1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 sq. unsweetened chocolate (2 oz.) – melted & cooled

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

¾ cup sour cream

½ cup macaroon or panko crumbs

½ cup maraschino cherries – chopped

½ cup nuts – chopped

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms (of choice)

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract – beat thoroughly. Stir in melted chocolate. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry mixture into fluffy mixture alternately with sour cream. Mix well – add in remaining ingredients. Drop 2” apart on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350-degrees for 12 minutes or until done. Remove from pan – cool. Makes about 5 dozen.

STAY SAFE — REMEMBER SOCIAL DISTANCING IS STILL NECESSARY — AS WELL AS BEING VACCINATED

Contact columnist Bette Banjack at banjack303.verizon.net. Search YouTube – with BetteBanjack as well as phoenixvillenews.com (search bar Banjack). She can also be found on Facebook.

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