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Mushroom Farming in Pennsylvania's 'Butt Crack'

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Consider the political geography of the United States of America, specifically that of the state of Pennsylvania. If you are unfamiliar with this region of the world, it would be best to look it up in an atlas. The south-eastern portion of Pennsylvania is shaped in such a way that part of it comes to a point at the place where it meets with the borders of the states of Maryland and Delaware. This point is often referred to by local residents as the 'Butt Crack of Pennsylvania'. Right around this 'butt crack' is the small, rural town of Kennett Square. Kennet Square has a population of aproximately 4700 people and is located just outside of Wilmington, close to Philadelphia. On many a warm summer's day, the area is filled with an alarmingly horrid odour. The source of this odour is, amusingly enough, animal faeces, used in the cultivation of one of the area's most popular delicacies - mushrooms. The odour, rather distastefully, has further assisted in gaining this area the reputation as being 'The Butt Crack'.

The Origins of Mushroom Farming

Mushroom farming in the United States originated in Kennett Square in 1896. Like so many great innovations, the method used today to farm mushrooms was discovered completely by accident. Two local florists, trying to maximize the efficiency of their greenhouses, decided to make use of the area underneath the shelves they used to grow ornamental plants to grow mushrooms. Over the years, the idea has expanded out of the florists' greenhouses, and had been modified to become a more capital, intensive endeavour.

Mushroom Farming Today

Mushrooms, due to the fact that they are fungi, grow best in dark, moist environments. Generally speaking, they will grow best on dead and decaying plant matter or exceptionally fertile ground. In order to achieve these natural growing conditions, farmers use high amounts of fertilizer in the cultivation of mushrooms. The mushroom houses of Kennett Square are so numerous and efficient at these methods that they now produce 46% of the United States' mushroom crop, and have managed to earn the town the title of 'Mushroom Capital of the World'.

Types of Mushrooms

There are over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms grown around the world. The following are some of the types grown in Kennett Square:

  • White mushrooms that can be cut in small pieces and used in sauces, or be kept whole to be stuffed. They are also good raw in salads, and will complement any meal.

  • Crimini mushrooms offer a more 'earthy' flavour than the white mushroom and are, therefore, often substituted for the white mushroom when a deeper flavour is desired.

  • Portabella mushrooms are actually an overgrown variety of the Crimini mushroom. The larger cap and stem have an exquisite meaty flavour and texture. As a result, the Portabella mushroom can be eaten whole after baking or, when sliced, can be used as a substitute for the Crimini mushroom.

  • Shitake mushrooms (also known as Oak, Chinese or Black Forest mushrooms) are best when cooked, having a firm texture and magnificent aroma. They can be used in any dish, but are best suited to pastas, soups and other entrées.

  • Oyster mushrooms have a mild and delicate flavour, ideal for cooking with chicken, veal, pork and seafood. Small slices of the coloured variety make an excellent garnish.

  • Enoki mushrooms have a mild, light flavour and are slightly crunchy. Though not usually used in meals, the Enoki mushroom can be used in salads or as a garnish.

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