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The Mushroom Feast

The Mushroom Feast

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The Mushroom Feast

444 pagine
3 ore
Apr 11, 2008


A timeless literary cookbook with more than 250 recipes and gastronomic treats that celebrate the varieties and culinary pleasures of mushrooms.
An indispensable classic for all those who love mushrooms. Truffles . . . ceps . . . morels, they all conjure visions of one of the most intriguing and subtle of all gastronomic treats. Amateur cooks can feel overwhelmed by the many varieties of mushrooms, and mystified by how best to prepare them, while epicures hunger for new ways to expand their repertoires.
With more than 250 recipes, Jane Grigson describes simple yet sumptuous preparations for all kinds of delectable fresh and preserved mushrooms. Included are helpful tips for selecting and preserving the best edible mushrooms (both wild and cultivated), the folklore behind the recipes, a brief history of mushroom cultivation, guides to distinguishing edible from poisonous fungi for those who venture to pick their own, and line drawings of the twenty-one most common species.
Apr 11, 2008

Informazioni sull'autore

Jane Grigson was born in Gloucester, England and brought up in Sunderland, where her father George Shipley McIntire was town clerk.[1] She attended Sunderland Church High School and Casterton School, Westmorland, then went on to Newnham College, Cambridge University, where she read English. On graduating from university in 1949, she spent three months in Florence.

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From the wide highroad

We turn into the dark wood.

Up to the ankles in dew

We spread out and wander …

Mushrooms hide by a tree stump.

On the stump sits a bird.

Shadows serve as a sign-post

So that we won’t lose our way …

But time, in September,

Is measured in short stretches.

Twilight can hardly reach us

Through the depths of the wood …

from Pasternak’s Going Mushrooming


The idea of writing this book came to us in the woods of the commune of Trôo, a village of the Bas-Vendômois, where for the last twelve years we have made a second home in the human dovecot of its sheltering cliff. Our first guide to that secret countryside, the key to our explorations, and our great friend, was a local vineyard-owner called Maurice. With a gentle humour at our French and our ignorance—Pauvres paysans, he would say—he initiated us into the two main occupations of the neighbourhood, wine-making and mushroom-hunting. On the second subject at least, we were not so ignorant as he thought, but our French hampered explanations. We kept quiet and learnt about wild mushrooms from quite a different point of view.

To him (and to his neighbours) mushroom-hunting was part of the waste-nothing philosophy he had inherited from his farming peasant ancestors, a philosophy which is dying out as time becomes a more precious commodity than wild sorbs or service berries or Spanish chestnuts or the small hard round pears of outlying fruit trees. In the case of wild mushrooms, though, time is not reckoned to be more precious than the flavour of girolles, ceps, morels and field mushrooms. These mushrooms have long been appreciated by chefs of the high cooking tradition in France: there is no question of allowing them to go to waste as we do so unregardingly.

So in that part of France, and I am sure in many others as well, and in Poland, Italy, Czechoslovakia and so on, there exists a large invisible community of mushroom-hunters. The concentration of eyes downwards, the careful tread of boots, require peace. There is no rousing gun-fire, or splattering of wings upwards through the trees, as there is when the followers of la chasse are out. Sunday is the occasion. Woods which have been silent most of the week, come alive. The crackling of dry wood announces our presence to all the others whom we cannot see, a more frequent shushing up of dead leaves, then the triumphant shout of our daughter, who has found the first girolles of the day. Maurice’s dog squawks as we all close in swiftly on the fruitful corner, with encouraging noises for the sharp-eyed novice. Then we all spread out again, and a busy silence returns. One is isolated, alone, all sense of time goes in the velvet warmth of the young trees. Suddenly some more girolles appear, or the moist brown head of a cep, and without meaning to, I shout aloud.

My voice

Becomes the wind;


Becomes the wind, because nobody takes any notice; I am too old to need encouraging; I am merely doing what we are there to do. That haiku was thought or spoken—one could not in the first instance say written—by the Japanese poet Shiki, in the nineteenth century. He must have thought it out a little ruefully, as he walked on with his eyes moving forward and back across the ground. Then, having time for reflection now that my eyes are trained to work in detached efficiency, I turn my thoughts to the mushroom-hunting parties of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In the false, airless suspense of forests, where reality is quite driven out by stillness, feelings become magnified, silences deeper—the perfect milieu for a novelist.

As the day ends, we go home with our baskets, baskets made by Maurice with osiers from the edge of his vineyard, emerging on to the Cellé road with its view of Trôo church tower. Over a drink, we spread out our picking, our cueillette. We anticipate a mushroom feast. Out come the books of identification; every mushroom is checked. This is the essential discipline of the business. If we were novices, and had had no Maurice and no books, we would take our baskets in to the local chemist for him to check them over. He expects to do this, and during the main mushrooming season will usually arrange a display in his window, with models of lurid colouration, plans, charts, and printed instructions, plus a few ferns and a stuffed pheasant for atmosphere. As there are comparatively few mushrooms which are lethal (as opposed to a fair number which can upset one’s stomach, or which merely taste nasty), it is sensible to learn precisely what they look like.

As soon as everything is sorted, I set aside the perfect specimens for drying, then decide how to cook the rest. Most cookery books—always excepting Plats du Jour by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd—are useless: hints in the mushroom handbooks are limited. So, after some years, it came to us gradually that it would be sensible to collect together all the information on cooking the best edible mushrooms that we could—very much for our own convenience, I admit.

Conversations at the hairdresser’s or in the local charcuterie made me understand how much we were missing by not making the most of the mushrooms we found. And we also found out that far more mushrooms grew in the neighbourhood than we had ever suspected, thousands and thousands of pounds of them, right beneath our feet.

Did you know that they grow mushrooms here in Trôo, in the caforts? said a neighbour one day. Now the caforts are disused quarry caves inside the cliff on which we were both living. One may wander about in them for many hours, though without a guide it is not something I would recommend. I had often wondered what went on in the caforts during the day, as men came and went from time to time although the quarrying had stopped long ago.

A visit to the caves was arranged, and off we went one hot afternoon. A large peasant greeted us at the main entrance, and after the usual shaking of hands and polite preliminaries, asked what seemed to me at the time a most peculiar question: Avez-vous vos règles? (Have you got the curse?). Feeling a little pink, I said no, and followed him in; I was rapidly distracted from any feeling of embarrassment by the sight of ribs of prepared earth on the floor, which ran away from our feet as far as the darkness of the passage was lit up by the proprietor’s torch. The hummocky ribs were spotted over with the white skulls of mushrooms, and the soft air closed round us in perfect tranquillity as we picked our way between them into the heart of the cliff.

I realize now, nine years later, that that visit was a time-machine jump backwards. The concerned, if embarrassing question, and the awkward teetering between the rows of mushrooms were all part of the old industry, when France pioneered the growing of mushrooms in disused quarry caves outside Paris in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Most growers did not allow women into caves at all until quite recently. Perhaps economic necessity—the growth of the industry leading to a demand for more labour than the men of a district could provide—wiped out the superstition. One English grower rationalized it this way: before the provision of proper lavatories, the pickers relieved themselves among the rows of earth, and when women were menstruating, a hormone was released into the urine which could blight the mushrooms growing nearby. Hence the somewhat Old Testament concern of the Trôo proprietor for our possible state of impurity.

The Trôo business came to an end not long after our visit, but other small caves in the area are still flourishing. Mostly they are attached to the big mushroom company which dominates mushroom-growing in the south-west of France, and they are serviced from the central depot of the neighbourhood. However picturesque the exterior of these small caves may be, methods inside are up to date. One cave we visited at La Marcellière, in a cliff of the river Dême near La Chartre, looks like an eighteenth-century painting. Beards of ivy fall across the side entrances. To the right a ruined cottage façade, built against the concave rock and complete with a high dovecot, now shelters cows from the heat. To the left, six feet up, is an apparently unreachable door, a blue door, with the letters WC on it. This scene of pre-industrial calm is frequently disturbed by the noise of tractors on the hill, coming and going through the main entrance with the mushroom trays and loaded baskets. No embarrassing questions here, just a lot of busy people who have no wish to be distracted from their work by tourists.

More recently we visited the central depot, an up-to-date mushroom concern to the east of Trôo, in another cave village appropriately called Les Roches. There 25 kilometres of quarry caves are owned by the company. As one drives to the village, over the plain above the cliff, one sees square chimneys, six or seven feet high, raising their heads without apparent purpose from the rows of vines and sweetcorn. In fact they are an important part of the ventilation system of the vast complex beneath, and not without purpose at all.

Down by the river, in front of the cliff, are the offices, and the sheds where the mushroom compost is prepared. Piles of manure and straw, moistened by sprinklers, are left to rot in the huge yards (the manure, which has to be fresh, is supplied from the racing stables around Paris, not too far away). The odorous mass is thoroughly hacked up before being compacted into huge oak, slatted trays in which the mushrooms will eventually grow. In a steaming hot room, an industrial bain turc without an odalisque in sight, the mixture ferments for a week, by which time the unpleasing smell has disappeared.

Now the prepared beds have the mushroom mycelium, which is prepared in laboratories, sprinkled over them. A final layer of earth goes on top, and they are taken for two weeks into the incubating chambers. When the mycelium, or mushroom spawn, has developed into a cottony web, dotted with minuscule mushrooms, the trays are taken up to the quarries to be stacked two wide and three or four high along the passages. Stacking takes ingenious account of the irregularities of the rock. Somehow space enough is left for the numerous machines to pass easily. There the trays rest for a month in black darkness before picking begins, to continue for about two months. At the end of this time—a three-month period from start to finish—the trays are emptied and the process begins again. Naturally in a large business, the process is being started again the whole time, so that equipment and workers are never idle—with the result that we have mushrooms all the year in constant and even-priced supply.

The dark life of these tunnel-quarries is extraordinary. Shadows lie deep on the walls which are cut, mile after mile, in a pleated effect, where the stone has been removed in regular courses. The vertical pleats all lie in one direction, towards the main entrance. It must have been a help to apprentice stoneworkers until they got the plan of the quarry firmly fixed in their heads. One moves along in the light of a small lamp, following the more certain steps of the guide. Then to left or right, down some long distance, one sees a group of lights silently bobbing about. This will be a group of pickers, wearing their lamps on their heads to leave the hands free. Each wooden tray is provided with legs to raise it from the tray below. The spaces are just large enough for the pickers to stretch to the centre. There is a mild buzz of conversation, but the hands keep going, selecting, picking, exchanging full baskets for empty ones. The day we went round, the foreman in charge remembered the old stone quarrying days. And he knew his warren perfectly, the plan was clear in his head, with the names of all the branching passages—rue des bacs, rue de la fontaine (because it has a spring), rue sèche.

As we walked and walked about, we often had to jump aside for the efficient little machines that trundle about with trays of mushrooms or loaded baskets. They may spoil the antique calm of the industry, but the introduction of machinery has meant that everyone can be paid twice as much as they were ten years ago, without the price of mushrooms being raised at all. In real terms, of course, this means that mushrooms are now cheaper than they have ever been. Everyone buys them. It is a long way back to 1708, when Dr. King included mushrooms among the decadent attractions of Paris, in his poem, The Art of Cookery:

Muse! sing the man that did to Paris go,

That he might taste their soups and mushrooms know!

Oh! how would Homer praise their dancing dogs,

Their stinking cheese and fricasee of frogs!

It is not just the introduction of machinery which has revolutionised the old, secretive, misogynist business of mushroom-growing, it is the scientific preparation of the mycelium, or mushroom spawn, which has cut out as far as possible the element of chance.

In this matter the French were the pioneers as they had been from the start. Edward Hyams observed (in Plants in the Service of Man, Dent, 1971) that the first time mushrooms were referred to as a crop, in any language, was in 1600, by Olivier de Serres, the great agriculturist, in his Théâtre d’Agriculture des Champs. He seems, though, to be talking about occasional, haphazard cultivation: the true domestication of the mushrooms Mr. Hyams dates from 1678, when the botanist Marchant gave a demonstration to the Académie des Sciences. He showed that the white filaments, which develop in the soil under mushrooms will, if transplanted into a suitable medium, give rise to more mushrooms. A discovery that the market gardeners of Paris were quick to profit from. No doubt they had noticed that crops of mushrooms appeared in the autumn on the hotbeds of manure on which they grew melons. Perhaps, Mr. Hyams suggests, the market gardeners may have employed Marchant to investigate the life cycle of the mushroom—certainly this would account for the rapidity with which they put his results to good use.

The late seventeenth century was the period of the greatest development of French cookery. Now market gardeners could supply the chefs of the court and the grand houses with a steady supply of mushrooms, as well as the seasonal crops of such newly improved vegetables as peas. And the disused quarries around Paris provided the perfect insulated conditions which the cultivation of mushrooms requires. In time gardeners around London began to copy French methods, using the hotbed technique. One may read a detailed description of it in Philip Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary of 1741. A more homely adaptation for private families was given by Hannah Glasse a few years later in her Art of Cookery.

Looking at cookery books of those early times, one soon notices that mushrooms are not used with to-day’s lavish hand. That only became possible, or rather foreseeable, in the 1890s when two mycologists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris managed to germinate spores and produce a sterilized mushroom spawn. According to R. Singer in Mushrooms and Truffles (Interscience Publishers, New York, 1961), this gave the French a virtual monopoly of supplies of reliable spawn. It wasn’t until the more open-minded mycologists of America published their methods in full and extensive detail in the twenties that the industries of the different countries were set free to expand into the great business mushroom growing has become to-day—not just in Europe and America, but in Australia, New Zealand, South America, and in parts of the Far East as well.

This new spirit of cooperation, and the sharing of discoveries, was made very clear to us by the divisional director of a mushroom company we visited in Bradford-on-Avon, in Wiltshire. He described the work of bodies such as the Mushroom Growers Association in London, which publishes all the information it can, and helps to foster the personal exchanges of the industry throughout the world. To this mushroom grower, such an attitude was as important as the discoveries themselves. He hoped, too, that many more varieties of mushroom would one day be cultivated: though as most of the kinds likely to be successful depend on the existence of trees, such cultivation must develop as a sideline of forestry rather than of his own entirely indoor business.

At Bradford-on-Avon, this company is the only one in the British Isles using caves like the French. For geological reasons or the lack of them, all our other growers use concrete huts, in which the insulated calm of the caves is reproduced, with less picturesque results it must be confessed. This Bradford quarry once supplied fine building stone. It was one of three belonging to the Bath and Portland Company, and in one of their documents of the 1870s, there is a provision that a Mr. Robinson could continue to grow mushrooms in the worked-out tunnels, as he had been doing for the last fifteen years. But as the present director of the quarries pointed out, any mushroom business which was carried on couldn’t have been extensive before the railways came in the 1830s, offering the chance of rapid transport to London where there were enough people to afford such a luxury.

The founder of the firm now in possession was, not surprisingly, a Frenchman, a Monsieur Dumont. His certification of incorporation is dated 1914, and in the offices one may also see the more personal record of a photograph which shows Monsieur Dumont, surrounded by some of his workers. They all look French, with berets and moustaches. Descendants of one of the men are still working with the firm.

The organisation of this Bradford-on-Avon firm is very close to the system followed at Les Roches in the Bas-Vendômois. Here the trays are twice as long, no doubt because they are made of Portuguese pine, which is much lighter than oak. But the width is bound to be the same—twice the reach of the average human arm—for obvious reasons. Picking here as elsewhere must be done by hand, as the mushrooms do not grow evenly, and must be selected. And they must be handled gently so that they are not bruised.

The mushroom that we had seen in our three caves, and the mushroom grown throughout Europe, America and the Far East, is Agaricus bisporus, of the same genus as our field mushroom, but another species. The field mushroom matures too rapidly for successful cultivation: it has no shelf life. This is a pity, because it certainly has a better flavour than Agaricus bisporus (though it is fair to remember that the small mushrooms we buy are usually immature specimens; freshness and a delightful texture rather than the flavour of maturity are their strong suit). Incidentally our word mushroom, which we use loosely to cover all manner of fungi, derives from the French mousseron, the field mushroom. And the French word goes back to the late Latin mussiriones, first recorded in the sixth century when it appeared in De Observatione Ciborum (Observations on Food), written for Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, by his doctor Anthimus.

Agaricus bisporus is not the only mushroom cultivated on a large scale. There is of course the truffle, the black truffle of France, and the white truffle of Piedmont. And more accessible to most of us, in spite of the long journey it has to make, there is the dried shiitake of Japanese and Chinese cookery, which is sold in oriental stores. The third biggest mushroom business in world terms is the growing of the padi-straw mushroom in south-east Asia and Madagascar, but although dried it is not commonly found in the West.

Here, then, is the record of one family’s pursuit of mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, over the last twenty years. It has given us much pleasure and many enjoyable meals; and it has taken us to strange and beautiful places which were there all the time, sometimes right beneath our feet, and never far away. I hope that this book will help other people to share the same delights.

Jane Grigson

Broad Town and Trôo, 1974




Below I list the cultivated and wild mushrooms best used in cooking either by themselves or as flavouring ingredients.

Poisonous mushrooms are few; but if you are going to collect them from woods and fields and lawns and roadsides, the culinary mushrooms need to be learnt. Recognition is the safeguard. So use a reliable guide with coloured plates. For the money, the most useful and most easily acquired is Collins Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools, by Morten Lange and F. B. Hora (1963) and for the United States The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide by Alexander H. Smith (University of Michigan Press, 1963) is highly recommended. Some of the very best mushroom illustrations are to be found in the four volumes of the Nouvel Atlas des Champignons by Henri Romagnesi, published by Bordas in 1967 under the auspices of the Société Mycologique de France, and for America the richly illustrated Mushrooms of North America by Orson K. Miller, Jr. (Dutton, 1972).

Many more kinds than I have listed are edible, and a few of them are delicious. I have omitted kinds at all difficult to identify, and also one or two which our mushroom books follow each other in praising too highly. One of these is the Saint George’s mushroom (Tricholoma gambosum) of the early summer. People often dislike its mealy scent and taste, though it does, I admit, look exceptionally pure, clean and appetising. Others are the coarse and sturdy blewit or blue-leg (Tricholoma saevum) of late autumn meadows, not as pleasant-flavoured as the slighter wood-blewit (Tricholoma nudum), which I include below, though it is sometimes on sale in shops and on market stalls in the Midland counties; and the rather overenthusiastically named Lactarius deliciosus of conifer woods, an orange mushroom which weeps orange tears.

General preparation of mushrooms

With the exception of morels and of course the dried mushrooms of all kinds, expose mushrooms to water as little as possible. A quick rinse under the tap, or a careful wipe with a clean damp cloth, should be enough. Cut off any blemished parts and the earthy base of the stalks. Do not peel mushrooms.

On the whole, wild mushrooms exude more liquid when exposed to heat than cultivated ones (though this often depends on the season and place where they have been growing). You can start off with the intention of frying them in a little butter, and find that the frying pan is soon overflowing and the mushrooms considerably reduced in size. If this happens, drain off the liquid and use it for soup or a sauce, and start again in a clean pan with a fresh lump of butter. If there is only a moderate amount of liquid, you can get rid of it by raising the heat—but be careful not to overcook the mushrooms. This is a danger with girolles, which always remain slightly chewy, and can be overcooked to toughness.

It follows that you need to allow more wild mushrooms when you are substituting them for cultivated mushrooms in a recipe, though sometimes quantity is compensated for by the extra flavour. Remember, too, that dried mushrooms often have a most concentrated richness, so that what seems at first sight an extravagant purchase turns out in the end to be quite reasonable. I can recommend drying your own mushrooms at home. It’s a simple business, as you will

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