MUSHROOMS and TRUFFLES. Figs. 703-713.
The native or wild mushrooms supply a source of food that we cannot afford to neglect, and it is the purpose of this article to call attention to them and to give advice as to their utilization.
The term mushroom, as the term fruit, is of very broad application. It may be applied to any one of the several hundred fleshy fungi which may be found in a particular region. Unfortunately, there is a popular belief that a "mushroom" and a "toadstool" are two things which are very dis tinct one from the other in some mysterious way, the one being edible and the other poisonous. This is practically synonymous with saying that those which have been found to be edible will be re garded as mushrooms, and those which have been found to be inedible, or which are supposed to be inedible, will be termed toadstools. This leads to endless confusion, since no two laymen would agree as to what forms are edible and what are not. The best usage, therefore, sanctions the use of the term mushroom to include all the fleshy forms, and we may, therefore, with propriety speak of edible, inedible, or poisonous mushrooms. In a commer cial sense, "the mushroom" refers to a particular species, Agaricus campestris (Figs. 3, 703), or to a group of species closely related to this one, several of which are cultivated as varieties of this form.
The utility of mushrooms.
Mushrooms are an important article of food in many parts of the world. They cannot in any sense, however, replace the staple articles of diet.
Pound for pound of the fresh product, they are not rich enough in proteids or nitrogenous materials to replace meat, nor are they so rich in carbohy drates as to replace such foodstuffs as rice and potatoes. Nevertheless, they are, from a chemical point of view, as valuable as many of our vege tables. From a physiological point of view their value cannot be estimated. This is due to the fact that they belong to that class of foods which should be known as condimsntal foods. The part which they play, therefore, is analogous to that of many of our fruits, and sometimes more important because of the fact that they serve the purposes of relishes taken with other foods.
In considering the economic pos sibilities of mushrooms, the dis tinction between wild and culti vated mushrooms should be borne in mind. It is not possible to form an estimate of the total output of cultivated mushrooms, although it is a product which, to a very large extent, is grown for the market.
Therefore, it would be wholly im possible to estimate the consump tion of wild mushrooms, for the latter constitute a product a relatively small part of which is marketed. While A. campestris and its allies are the chief cultivated mushrooms, it should be said, however, that other species are cultivated, in a sense, in particular regions. Truffle-growing [see following] is for all practical purposes an industry in sections of southern France. In Japan, the Shiitake (Collybia Shiitake) is an article of commerce, and probably this same species is likewise grown in China.
Extent of mushroom-culture.
During the season of 1901, the estimated quan tity of the cultivated mushroom product which passed through the Central Markets of Paris was nearly ten million pounds. The market of Paris is the chief market of the world for the cultivated mushroom, and much of the product finally sold in London and continental cities may be traced to Paris. Nevertheless, mushroom-growing is an industry in England and in other European coun tries. In the United States the cultivated mush room is a product of importance only in the neigh borhood of some of the larger cities, and the best markets are unquestionably New York, Philadel phia, Boston and Chicago. It is safe to say, how ever, that markets of these and of many other cities could support a much larger quantity of the cultivated mushrooms than is sold during any sea son. The price paid in this country may vary from twenty-five cents a pound to more than a dollar, and an average price would probably be about fifty cents per pound. This is nearly twice as much as is paid for cultivated mushrooms on the markets of Paris, and it is evidence of the fact that the mushroom is still a luxury. It is safe to say that although mushroom production has doubled in the United States within a period of five years, the markets could take twice the quantity now being received without very materially affecting the value of the product. Moreover, the demand for the cultivated mushroom is increas ing very rapidly, and many of the smaller cities which now receive none of this prod uct could dispose of it in small quantity.