There are some ingredients that always go into my market basket, and mushrooms are right at the top of that list. Being one of the most versatile foods, mushrooms can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will often add handful of mushroom morsels into a dish, for not only are they delicious, they also provide a rich source of antioxidants, are low in kilojoules, and contain a range of essential vitamins and minerals.
A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey highlighted the increase in vitamin D deficiency during winter, and the associated increased risk of poor bone health and chronic disease, due to poor levels of vitamin D. After my run-in with pneumonia last winter, my GP noted that my Vitamin D levels were too low (and my bone density was also problematic). He suggested I eat more mushrooms. I explained with a smile that this was not going to be a problem.
Australian research in 2013 confirmed that three standard button mushrooms exposed to direct midday sunlight could provide 100 per cent of an adult’s vitamin D requirement. I wrote about this exciting development back in October. Did you know that, as consumers, we can enrich fresh store-bought mushrooms by placing them in direct sunlight for one to two hours! Interesting, no? I've been doing this with mushrooms since I first learned about it.
Mushrooms are farmed on Canberra's doorstep and available locally...
These days consumers are greatly interested in knowing where their food comes from. My philosophy on food is to eat fresh and support local growers where possible. By purchasing locally grown produce, we as consumers can invest back into our local food supply and support the farmers and food producers in our region.
In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), where I live, shoppers have access to a wonderful assortment of fresh produce including apples, pears and quinces; free-range eggs; olive oils and olives; hazelnuts; salad and Asian greens; cherries and berries; and honey—all locally grown and produced. There are also two mushroom farms situated in the rural districts of Yass and Murrumbateman, just outside the Australian Capital Territory.
Canberra Mushrooms, based at Yass, and Majestic Mushrooms in Murrumbateman, supply fresh mushrooms to greengrocers, independent supermarkets, food service outlets and weekly farmers markets.
During June, residents of the ACT are urged to buy local and support mushroom growers located on the capital’s doorstep. Adding mushrooms to the menu during winter also gives us the opportunity to tap into a range of health benefits. As an additional incentive, ACT consumers who purchase locally grown mushrooms during June have the opportunity to enter a competition for a chance to win a year’s supply of local mushrooms to enjoy when eating in, plus $500 to enjoy mushrooms when dining out. For more information about the promotion visit the power of mushrooms web site and look for promotional fliers at your local greengrocer or independent supermarket.
Meet the mushroom growers on their farms...
Meeting local growers and seeing their operations opens ones eyes to the fact that farming is not a lifestyle, it's a major investment of time, effort and money. It has been years since I've visited a mushroom farm and I was very much looking forward to taking Peter along with me. Australian Mushroom Growers made it possible for us to spend a little time with the owners and managers at both Canberra Mushrooms and Majestic Mushrooms. Here are my postcards and morsels from those visits.
At Canberra Mushrooms in Yass, owners Digby Swan and Tim McKinnon, employ some 20 staff. White agaricus buttons, cups and flats, as well as Swiss browns and portobellos, are grown in bags. Manager, Clint Smithers, explained that bag farming is an old technique. Once a week around 35 tonnes of fresh mushroom compost is delivered to the farm. The compost is pasteurised to make a selective growing medium, and this process takes a week. Mushroom spawn is infused with rye seed and then mixed into the compost in the bags, then machines press the bags into a compact shape. A thick layer of specialty peat moss is added to the top of the compost in each bag, and the bags are stored in a shed in which the temperature and humidity is strictly controlled by a central computer. A month after the compost is initially dropped off, the mushrooms are ready for picking. There are four sheds running each week, with the aim to harvest approximately eight tonnes of beautifully-fresh plump mushrooms, which are all cut, trimmed and packed by hand. And these fresh, plump mushrooms go to the marketplace within a day and can be on your dinner plate very soon after harvest.
For the past eight years, Ian and Helen Chu from Majestic Mushrooms, have been growing mushrooms on their property at Murrumbateman. Their fascination sparked when they visited a mushroom farm in Windsor. 'It was so different to other kinds of farms. I fell in love with the idea straight away,' Helen, a former teacher, explained. I came home and began researching. The more I read about it, the more fascinated I became', Helen said. 'Every day is different' Ian, who swapped his job as an engineer to become a mushroom farmer, says. 'It's not as though you are looking at the same crops. The mushrooms are different, the pickers are different. It's never a boring job.' The Chus grow white button mushrooms, flats, Swiss browns and portobellos on a large-scale, high-tech hygienic operation in growing rooms with row upon row of purpose-built tiered metal shelves. The 'phase 3' compost is bought in from a specialist maker, so there's no 'lead time' for the compost. The Chus explain that this way they can 'focus on the art of growing'. Layers of specialty peat moss are added to the compost on the racks and the first flush of mushrooms appears within 16 days. Rainwater is collected from the roof space and used to maintain water levels. The growing conditions are carefully maintained by Ian via computers, but he also keeps a watchful eye on the activity in the sheds. All of this results in high quality, perfectly produced, delicious tasting mushrooms.
The fascinating growth cycle of mushrooms...
As Peter learned from our farm tours, there's more to growing mushrooms than simply buying a kit and placing it into a dark place in the shed. Mushroom farming involves a detailed scientific process: top quality compost or substrate, fresh spawn (which will develop the mycelium growth), peat moss casing (often imported from overseas), correct temperatures and moisture levels, disease control, careful thinning, and, finally, painstaking harvest and sorting all done by hand. That said, it is also a fascinating and joyful experience to watch mushrooms grow, especially given that they can double in size within 24 hours!
Add a handful of mushroom to your meals for good health this winter...
This post is sponsored by Australian Mushrooms Growers and I have enjoyed cooking with a bounty of fresh locally-grown mushrooms thanks to the generosity of Digby Swan at Canberra Mushrooms and Ian and Helen Chu at Majestic Mushrooms (thanks so much!). Watch this space for a few of my mushroom recipes, coming soon. For a wide range of tasty mushroom recipes, visit the Power of Mushrooms recipe page below.
Where to buy locally-grown mushrooms in the ACT...
Capital Region Farmer's Market, Choku Bai Jo stores, Fyshwick Markets, Belconnen Markets, Freddy Frapple in Weston, Go Troppo Fruit Market in Jamison, Freska Fruita in Phillip, Jalal Halal in Mawson, Jardin Fresh Life at the Hyperdome, Supabarn Express and Supabarn stores, The Food Forum at Westfield, Majestic Fresh in the city and selected IGA supermarkets.
Tell me dear readers, do mushrooms feature on your menu regularly? Are there mushrooms farms in your part of the world?
I'm Liz, a.k.a Bizzy Lizzy,
the writer, cook and traveller behind
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.