Mushrooms: Older Than You Think

Mar 19, 2014 by

Written by Phin Upham

If you have ever looked at a mushroom and thought about the first person to eat one, you might be surprised to learn humans have been eating them since prehistoric times. Sites in Germany and Switzerland show cave drawings with little puff balls, which likely indicate mushroom consumption. Mushrooms were probably plentiful and easy to forage for.

We have plenty of written evidence suggesting that the Romans even loved them. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were the ones who most likely responsible for the truffle and the oronge. The Chinese and Japanese may have a long history of cultivating chitake from rotted logs, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the origins.

We do know that the French began what we consider modern cultivation practices by the 1600s. By 1678, The French botanist Marchant showed how to sow mushrooms in a controlled environment by transplanting their mycelia. This was a huge break through for the culinary arts, which were discovering new and more interesting methods to use mushrooms in cooking.

Throughout the late 1800s, the majority of mushroom recipes were for making sauces or for pickling. There was the occasional stew here and there, but mushrooms had not yet hit the American culinary scene. The American cook Hannah Glass didn’t help matters with an unflattering recipe for mushrooms, and Americans were unsure of which mushrooms were actually healthy to eat.

It was not until the 1890s, when mushroom clubs were a popular way for like minded enthusiasts to safely cultivate, that the mushroom truly became a part of American cuisine. By then, there were illustrated manuals dedicated to preparing the mushroom, and lengthy pamphlets detailing how to properly identify one.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website

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