Summer reading #8

Growing your own mushrooms: Cultivating, Cooking and Preserving by Jo Mueller

Published 1976    ~    ISBN #0-88266-089-6    ~   169 pages    ~    Challenge book #6

Reading this book was a little like immersing myself in an alternate universe. Being the self-reliant type, I expected to read about growing mushrooms from a mostly how-to-do-this perspective. Perhaps some descriptions of different ways to raise mushrooms, discussion about different types of mushrooms, eloquence about the joys of raising and eating mushrooms, etc. As you might have guessed, that’s not exactly what I found.

The author, Jo Mueller, is a wife and mother who raises mushrooms in her basement. (At least, at the time of writing she was. That was 32 years ago.) She seems to have written this book because A) she enjoys raising and cooking her own mushrooms, and B) most people know squat about raising mushrooms. She is simply telling the reader about how she does things, not about all the possibilities.

Her way of doing things includes: one kind of mushroom (the ubiquitous white button), heavy use of pesticides (shudder) and lots of manure. She also mentions repeatedly how good mushrooms are for the dieter, because they are so low in calories. There are many other moments that bring home just how sexual politics stood in the 1970s: cooking the fish “your man” caught, lighter recipes for “the girls”, etc.

I was also fascinated by the continual reference to a “food budget”. (Does anyone keep one anymore?) In the recipe section, there is a whole chapter on cooking with “other meats” like chipped beef, tongue and liver. Her recipes also make wide use of American cheese. At times, it seems Jo only raised mushrooms because it was cheaper than buying them!

This book kept me engaged for the morning, but if it had been much longer, I probably would have lost interest.

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