Out Camarillo way, down a country road, in a sparsely populated area with wide-open fields, lies a family farm of fungi.
When its proprietor, John Peterson, awakens each morning, the last thing on his mind is having to drive to work. His commute, uh, stroll to work requires nothing more than to walk out the back door to a mushroom farm he started in 1985.
This is not only convenient, but allows Peterson to keep a watchful eye on his operation.
"We're always monitoring something," he said. This isn't a "9 to 5" job, "it's an around-the-clock job."
Twenty growing rooms are controlled at precise temperatures. A system malfunction and sudden change in temperature can prove disastrous to the mushrooms' growth.
Mushrooms, Etc. (the Etc. being the small harvest of lemons offered wholesale) grows two varieties of the fungi.
"Our white mushrooms are the most popular," Peterson said. But that's not his mushroom of choice. "We also grow the brown cremini , which is more flavorful and has a better shelf life," he said.
Peterson guesses that most customers go for the "white" variety, thinking it is fresher, given its bright appearance. "Many chefs and cooks actually prefer the browns because the taste is a lot better," he said.
Decide for yourself.
Mushroom Etc. harvests about 1.3 million pounds of mushrooms yearly--"3,500 pounds a day"--and most of the crop is sold right here in Ventura County.
Besides selling to local pizzerias, restaurants and grocers, the Peterson clan offers same-day harvested mushrooms at a farmers market near you.
You will find Mushrooms, Etc. at the Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Ventura markets. (They also attend the Torrance Farmers Market.)
So you say you are a scrupulous mushroom buyer and freshness means everything to you.
Peterson advises that your best bet may be to purchase mushrooms from a farmers market. Depending on which grocer you frequent, it can take up to three days for mushrooms to reach store shelves, he said.
Mushroom, Etc.'s asking price for a pound of mushrooms is about $2.
Peterson's wife, Susan, has compiled useful information regarding the care, handling and preparation of mushrooms. She provided the following suggestions:
* Shopping Guide--The size of the mushroom has nothing to do with the quality. Simply pick the size most suitable for your recipe.
* Storage and Preparation--Keep mushrooms cold and use them as soon as possible. Storing in a refrigerator provides good air circulation. Peterson suggests covering with a damp paper towel to aid moisture retention. Avoid storing in plastic bags. Scrubbing or peeling mushrooms causes loss of nutrients and texture. Rinse quickly and pat dry before using.
* Nutritional Information--Low in sodium and calories and 99% fat free (a cup of mushrooms contains only 20 calories and no cholesterol). Rich in vitamin B.
* Freezing--Mushrooms can be stored--either sauteed or blanched--for up to one year. Saute in butter or margarine for five minutes or blanch them in boiling water with one tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice per quart of water for two to four minutes. Drain, cool, pack in freezer bags or containers, seal, label, date and freeze.
* Saute--Use two tablespoons butter or oil for each eight ounces of mushrooms, either sliced, halved or whole. Heat butter or oil until hot and add mushrooms. Cook and stir until golden, about five minutes.
* Marinating--The easiest way is to simply toss blanched mushrooms with vinaigrette dressing (bottled or homemade) and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Add diced green pepper, chopped onion or sliced celery if desired.
* Microwave--Mushrooms can be microwaved if they are included in a casserole. Simply add to prepared casserole, cover and microwave on high for about three minutes for 12 ounces of mushrooms. Turn casserole halfway through cooking.
* WHERE AND WHEN
If you can't make it to one of the farmers markets for a batch, the Mushrooms, Etc. outlet is at 2710 Cawelti Road in Camarillo. Store hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 987-7575.
Although they can be added to a plethora of preparations, Susan Peterson of Mushrooms, Etc. suggested the following recipe to enjoy a fresh batch of mushrooms.
1 pound small mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry
1 cup sour cream
Wash and dry mushrooms. Melt butter and add the garlic. Add the mushrooms, dill weed, salt, pepper, lemon juice and sherry. cook for 20 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked through. Pour small amount of mushroom liquid into sour cream and blend. Then pour sour cream over mushrooms and mix to thoroughly coat mushrooms. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight to marinate. When ready to serve, place in chafing dish and heat gently. Insert toothpick into each mushroom for individual appetizer serving.