Monday, 9 March 2020

The History of Cultivation of the Button Mushroom in France


From around 1450 BC the button mushroom was already known, and a picture of one has been found in an Egyptian pharaoh's tomb. The Romans were very fond of button mushrooms and particularly appreciated them as a condiment. They gained royal attention in 17th century France, when they were produced in the gardens of Versailles for Louis XIV.

This was open air cultivation, during favourable weather in spring and autumn. In 1678 a paper on their cultivation was presented to the French Academy of Sciences and botanists corresponded on the subject of how to grow them in the open air.

Traces of 20th century mushroom cultivation in an abandoned limestone quarry under the Chateau of Le Grand Pressigny.
Traces of 20C mushroom cultivation in an abandoned limestone quarry.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In the 18th century mushroom production becomes continuous, as mushrooms are 'domesticated' by being brought under shelter from the weather.

Chambray, a French horticulturalist and agronomist, had the idea of cultivating mushrooms in abandoned quarries under Paris all year round so as to lengthen their productive period. At the time, the button mushroom was the only one that the police allowed to be sold in the markets.

Crates of mushrooms being cultivated in the former limestone quarry at Bourré.
Crates of mushrooms being cultivated in an abandoned limestone quarry.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

By the 19th century most of the underground quarries of Paris were being used for the cultivation of button mushrooms. This cultivation spread very rapidly into the suburbs of Paris, then into the provinces, especially the Loire Valley, in the old quarries that had provided the white limestone for the chateaux. As a result of the extensive cultivation under Paris, these button mushrooms became known in French as champignons de Paris, the name they retain today.

I've previously written about mushroom cultivation:

Growing Exotic Mushrooms on an Old Army Base

The Mushroom Caves at Bourré


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4 comments:

Unknown said...

Do you know why only the button mushroom was allowed?
Jocelyn

Susan said...

I suspect to reduce the possibility of poisonings. People aren't nearly as good at identifying edible wild mushrooms as they think they are.

Colin and Elizabeth said...

As I remember from a long ago visit to the cave near Saumur there are some fascinating stats about the numbers grown!

Susan said...

In the 1930s the Cave des Roches at Bourré was producing 200 tonnes of mushrooms a month and employed 50 people. Now they employ just 6 and produce 100+ tonnes a year, all harvested by hand.

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