Something that we tend to take for granted are button mushrooms. They make a great garnish or addition to hundreds of centerplate items, and they are also a primary ingredient for foods like omelets, pasta sauces and pizza toppings. In addition, unlike other, less meaty vegetables, button mushrooms serve very well as the main ingredient of soups and even stews.
These hearty veggies offer a strong and individual flavor and keep well in the refrigerator. Best of all, they are available even in the worst weather, and all year long. Formally known as Agaricus bisporus (also sometimes called “commercial mushrooms”), the button mushroom was first cultivated on horse manure heaps in France in the 1700s. It is still grown this way. Until recently it was the main mushroom cultivated in the United States.
The button mushrrom was originally brown in color. In 1926, a Pennsylvania mushroom farmer found a clump of Agaricus with white caps in his mushroom bed. Cultures were grown from the mutant individuals, and most of the cream-colored store mushrooms we see today are products of this chance observation.
Whole unopened buttons taste best. Once the partial veil protecting the gills has broken and the cap expands, the flesh becomes softer, cooks darker, and has a stronger taste.
Little water is required for the cleaning of store-bought mushrooms or of field specimens if gathered carefully. Older ones may be fragile and difficult to clean without cracking. A soft brush is useful. Avoid soaking, for the gills retain water and they will cook poorly. For best results, let them drain in a colander 15 to 30 minutes before cooking.
The button mushroom is one of the few mushrooms that can be eaten raw in a salad, or ussed for dips. Thickly sliced pieces, when sautéed, may be savored as delicate hor d’ oeuvres. Added to vegetarian casseroles or stews, they may simulate hunks of meat.
Store your button mushrooms in the refrigerator for a week in an open bowl covered with waxed paper, but avoid plastic. They may also be sautéed in butter and frozen. They are surprisingly good when cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices and dried at home for later rehydration. Buttons may be pickled, spiced, or canned. Use a pressure cooker, applying fully adequate time, heat, and pressure, when canning them.