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Sep 042011

The Mushroom Museum is one of a kind and is located in Kennett Square in Pennsylvania in a small one storey building. Over 46 percent of the mushroom grown in America is harvested in Pennsylvania. They are grown in dark mushroom houses near Kennett Square. This is known as mushroom capital of the world. Detailed information about the history, growing process and mushroom products is available at the museum.

Mushrooms have been eaten since the times of Egyptian kings some 4600 years ago. The pharaohs had decreed that only royals could eat mushrooms and they were not for commoners. Mushrooms were given place even in hieroglyphic drawings.

King Louis XIV th of France is said to have initiated mushroom cultivation near Paris in dark caves. The English soon followed. The mushroom industry started in America in 1890 and it now produces 38000 varieties of the fungi.

A diorama in the Mushroom Museum describes how mushrooms are grown. Mushrooms are fruits of a fungus and consist of two parts, the stem and the cap. They have no chlorophyll, the green coloring pigment of plants, and do not require light for growth. They are grown in windowless rooms and workers use helmets with lights to move about. Mushroom pores are sown in compost which is a mixture of straw, corn cobs, seed hulls and manure. The plants get nutrients from this organic matter. A single mature mushroom has 16 billion spores. They are collected in a sterile atmosphere and kept ready for propagation.

The growing conditions are controlled well for a good crop. After three weeks small delicate mycelium emerge from the compost. Constant humidity and temperature are maintained and pasteurised peat moss is used to cover the mushrooms. In about twenty days the mushrooms are ready for harvesting. They are removed along with the stem manually. The size depends upon variety and even then the size of a ripe mushroom will vary.

Behind the museum you can see real mushrooms growing and all the stages portrayed inside can be seen. A ten minute long film is screened at the museum which traces the growth of the mushroom business from small farms to the present large scale cultivation.

There is a gift shop at the museum which sells mushrooms and related items. Dried, marinated, pickled and refrigerated mushrooms are on sale. There are packs which contain small quantities of all these varieties so you can buy those and decide which ones you prefer.

A mushroom festival is held in September in Kennett Square. Farm tours are offered to see how mushrooms are grown and the whole process explained in detail. The best cooks of the country fight for culinary supremacy in the National Mushroom Cook-off.