August 13, 2005

Moonlight Mushrooms

I didn't grow up eating mushrooms. For whatever reason, they never made it into our household. Not even in the form of a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. Whether this was a Texas thing or a Mom thing, I'll never know.

The man I married was from New Jersey. He ate a lot of what I considered to be, at the time, "strange" food, and it was because of him that mushrooms finally made their way onto my grocery lists and into my kitchen.

That was in 1978. Although I loved to cook, I was more into the finished product than the history of food or wondering about where it came from. I was a city girl. Food came from the grocery store.

My discovery of the fact that some mushrooms were grown in underground caves came as a total surprise. Who knew? (This information was gleaned from a promotional cookbook, I might add, else I might still be in the dark.)

"Good things to eat with Moonlight Mushrooms" is similar to the recipe book I had. It gives a short history of mushrooms in general and also tells a bit about Moonlight Mushrooms, a brand name for mushrooms that were grown and packed by the Butler County Mushroom Farm in Worthington, Pennsylvania. An excerpt from the front of the book reads:

"Before the turn of the last century, underground limestone mining began in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania. The stone in several of the mines was exhausted after many years of mining, leaving vast underground mazes of galleries and corridors...dark, silent and empty. Then in 1937, the corridors began to bustle again with activity, not with miners with their picks and shovels, but with farmers! Constant darkness, never varying 56 degree temperatures, high humidity and protection from freezing winters and parched summers "up there" was the ideal environment for cultivating mushrooms...Moonlight Mushrooms."

"Two of the "ghost" mines are now flourishing underground farms, providing full time employment for over 1000 people. Skilled laboratory technicians collecting microscopic mushroom spores in test tubes...engineers designing new specialty equipment...mechanics maintaining equipment that can handle 500 tons of organic compost daily....carpenters building and repairing thousands of 1/2-ton growing trays...maintenance personnel constantly checking and maintaining the safety of the mine...drivers of electric vehicles bringer pickers to and from over 100 miles of underground growing corridors...packers weighing and packaging Moonlight Mushrooms...and hundreds of pickers wearing miners' hats and lamps, harvesting mushrooms seven days a week in total darkness...all work together to bring you the finest mushrooms that modern science and know-how can produce."

Pennsylvania is the nation's largest mushroom-growing state. There are several different mushroom companies out of Pennsylvania that have published their own cookbooks in the past. Now known as Creekside Mushrooms, Ltd., the facility mentioned in the excerpt above is now the only underground mushroom farm in the United States and they still produce the Moonlight Mushrooms brand.


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