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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mushroom Capital

I knew, as many of you probably do, that Kennett Square, PA--that small town in Chester County--is truly the mushroom capital of the US (if not the world).  Farms there produce about 400 million pounds of mushrooms each year--that's over half of the mushrooms consumed in the US.  That's an amazing amount.

What I didn't know was how Kennett Square became the center of the mushroom universe.  An interesting NPR article gives more information, but here are some of the basics.

The story begins with Quakers.  According to the local story, in 1885, a couple of Quaker flower farmers in Chester County wanted to use up some ground under their flower greenhouses.  So they decided to try to raise mushrooms.  It worked.

White mushrooms ready for the picking.  (Photo courtesy of NPR.)
For this labor intensive work, they hired Italians who lived in the area, who eventually started their own farms.  By 1950, there were hundreds of mushroom farms in the area--many owned by Italian families. 

Raising mushrooms starts with the compost.  Most of the local farms use cocoa shells from Hershey, and corn cobs, hay, chicken manure and horse manure from area farms.  The spores are added to the compost in dark buildings, which creates fungus.  The farmers then lower the carbon dioxide level and temperature and add water.  This simulates winter coming on and the fungus then forces the mushrooms to grow.

Tending the mushroom growing barns, harvesting, etc are all done manually.  (Many of the workers are Mexicans who have worked these farms for generations.)  And timing is important.  According to the article, mushrooms can double in size in 24 hours, so when they're the right size, they have to be harvested. 

The mushroom business in Kennett Square continues to grow.  Unfortunately, that means that the big farms have gotten bigger and many of the smaller ones have folded.  With larger farms, it's harder to get enough of their needs met locally.  For example, compost ingredients have to be brought in from further away, which is more expensive.

Still, the farms that continue to thrive are a result of the hard work and ingenuity of the many who came before them.  And that's a pretty cool thing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Philly's Pizza Museum

There's a Pez museum in Burlingame, CA.  Spam has it's own museum in Austin, MN.  The National Mustard Museum is in Middleton, WI.  There's even a museum of Burnt Food in Arlington, MA!

So how can it be that there has never been a museum dedicated to all things pizza? 

Well, wait no longer.  And we don't have to travel very far to visit!

Pizza Brain has opened in Philadelphia.  On the menu are great hand-made pizzas including the Jane (mozzarella, aged provolone, grana padano and fresh basil with hand-crushed tomato sauce), the Wendy Wedgeworth (mozzarella, sun-dried tomato, arugula, honey goat cheese with the tomato sauce), the Lucy Waggle (a white pizza with mozzarella, grana padano, pine nuts, fresh thyme, arugula, sweet dates, crisped prosciutto) and the Granny Divjack (another white pie with mozzarella, shaved almonds, caramelized onions, blue cheese and Granny Smith apple).

Not only can you get these tasty pies at Pizza Brain, but you can get a look at the only pizza museum in the world.  They are certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the largest collection of pizza memorabilia and pizza-related items in the world. 

You'll find the Noid (remember him?), loads of pizza-related LPs, a Good Times Ken doll complete with a piece of pizza and a slice on his shirt, a dancing pizza-chef Elmo (Jake has one of those) and on and on.  There's even an ice cream place attached to Pizza Brain that offers pizza ice cream.

So if you love pizza--and all that pizza stands for--Pizza Brain is the place to go.  (October is National Pizza Month, by the way!)  Check out a CBS News report here (there are a lot of other links to press coverage on their website). 

Have you been to Pizza Brain?  Let me know how it was!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beet It!

Beets.  It seems that people either love them or hate them.  Or they never have tried them. 

Now, I wouldn't say that I'm a huge beet fan.  I don't eat them all that much.  But maybe I should.

Beets are incredibly healthy.  They are known to fight heart disease, birth defects and cancer (especially colon cancer).  They are full of good things like fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin C and more.  Many consider the beets used in borcht to be a factor why so many of those century-old Russians live so long.

But the pigments that give beets their intense color (whether red or yellow are the real health stars.  These pigments, called betalains, are major antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  Interestingly, only about 10-15% of people are "betalain responders"--meaning that only some of us have the capacity to absorb and metabolize these compounds enough to get the full benefit.  It's worth the try, though.

There are all sorts of ways to prepare beets.  You could go Dutchie and pickle them.  I love them that way.  Their flavor intensifies when they're roasted.  You can even eat them raw.  And don't forget the greens.  Beet greens are very flavorful and so easy to prepare--just prepare as you would chard or spinach.

Here's a recipe from the New York Times for a beet salad that uses both the beet and their greens.  However you try them, enjoy their sweet taste and the great health benefits that you get from these tasty veggies.