Organic Straw Mushroom Feast
Like many other CRCD community development projects, "Organic Straw Mushroom Feast" starts with simple and indisputable observations of rural Cambodian life. The Cambodian poor can no longer afford prahoc, a pungent fermented Khmer fish paste which has been staple food and a source of proteins since before Angkorian times. Overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat destruction and pollution have all contributed to a marked decline of the inland fish catch. Skyrocketing prices place fish, which has always been central to Cambodia's traditional livelihoods, beyond the reach of the average household. Malnutrition and stunted growth already plague Cambodian childhoods, and will undoubtedly take the heaviest toll on the poor.
It was during a hearty and delicious meal of fine fishes, that we could afford, that the mushroom spawned in our minds. Most Cambodian fishers and farmers are well aware that when there is little fish or meat available, mushrooms naturally growing on haystacks are a perfect substitute. Why? They are not sure. Modern science has the answer: straw mushrooms are rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins B and C, as well as amino acids.
Nutritional Content of Paddy Straw Mushrooms
In Cambodia, mushrooms, in particular paddy straw mushrooms (Vovariella volvacea) are considered a delicacy that most households can rarely afford. Mushrooms are expensive and hard to come by in smaller rural markets. Khmer farmers have traditionally attempted to cultivate straw mushroom with mitigated successes. Without understanding of basic mycological concepts, mushroom growing in Cambodia is shrouded in superstition and hoaxes. For instance, most people believe that the colour of the clothes they wear may have a negative impact on mushroom growth. According to traditional convictions, mushrooms also seem to be sensitive to the body odours of their growers.
If paddy straw mushrooms are to become a mainstay of Cambodian diet, then their culture will have to be thoroughly simplified and clearly explained, so as to become practically feasible for Cambodian farmers. Failure is not an option when you survive on less than a dollar a day. A single bad mushroom harvest may wreck an entire household.
The objectives of CRCD's "Organic Straw Mushroom Feast" project are to: (1) experiment with available mushroom cultivation methods to determine optimal growth parameters in the Cambodian context (straw acidity, contamination prevention, culture strains, humidity, temperature, carbon and light exchange), (2) develop a simplified, low technology, yet reliable, set of methods for growing straw mushrooms on a household scale, (3) provide alternative or complementary employment for local people, (4) raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of mushrooms, and (5) feast on the mushroom by-products of our experiments.
About Volvariella volvacea, Mycologist Paul Stamets writes that "when eaten whole, [it] explodes in your mouth creating a flavor sensation par excellence" (Stamets 1998). We concur with this scientific assessment that fresh organic paddy straw mushrooms are divinely delicious. Vovariella vovacea has a firm and ever slightly crunchy flesh with an unbelievably sweet natural character. Cogito Ergo Sum.