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The name accepted in Britain as covering all fungi - some of which are edible - that grow wild. Around the world these comes in over 30,000 varieties, but the most common variety found on our shores is the field mushroom, usually referred to as just mushrooms.

Many varieties were prized by the Egyptian pharaohs and later by the Roman aristocracy - the emperors Tiberius and Claudius both probably died from mushroom poisoning (or were at least seriously weakened, so they could be finished off by other methods).

However, until the lot of the poor improved, mushrooms remained a treat for the rich as they lacked the serious nourishment needed to survive everyday life. The great Russian gastronome Alexander 1 (the employer of Carème) died in 1825 after a mushroom feast, as did Pope Clement V11 and France"s Charles V.

So although European mainland has always maintained its appreciation - apart from field mushrooms, the British and North Americans have remained suspicious of the more exotic varieties until recently.

As a food they have only been cultivated since the 17th century, adeven now this is only possible with a few varieties. See also: "Carème,Antonin (1784-1833)"; "Chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius)"; "Field Mushroom (Agaricus Campestris)"; " Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides)"; "Morel (Morchella esculenta)"; "Mushrooms, Wild - picking"; "Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)"; "Puffball (Lycoperdon Giganteum)"

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