The Edible Mushroom Book Hardcover – 1 Aug 2008
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This book is aimed at the beginner, and it follows a now pretty standard format of: first some general information about mushrooms and other fungi; then a field guide; and then a section on recipes. These kinds of books are not intended to be exhaustive guides to all the heroes and villains of the fungi world; for this your best bet is Roger Phillips's seminal Mushrooms: Mushrooms
Instead, this book is intended to be a guide to the key edible species, with enough information on their distinguishing features, habitats, and seasons, etc. to get you started. This information, together with photographs of the mushroom in question (usually straight on, from above, and cut in half), is presented in a useful standardised way, according to a series of subheadings such as 'When to look', 'Where to look', 'How it grows', etc. The information provided under these headings, however, is somewhat variable, with notable omissions regarding, for example, cap colour or texture, or taste and smell.
All in all, the book is nicely laid out, is small enough to take with you on a hunt, and reads well, but suffers from a few key flaws.
Firstly, the paper used for the book is 'mushroom' coloured, it's a kind of parchment watermark which, while it looks pleasant enough, means that all the photos appear a little dark, and the colours (often important to identifying mushrooms) are incorrect. This is definitely a case of aesthetics taking precedence over function.
Secondly, the section on poisonous mushrooms is very brief indeed. OK, fair enough, it is called the 'Edible Mushroom Book', but you can't really have one group without a mention of the others, not when it comes to picking from the wild. The section on the villains covers just two pages. Only ten poisonous species are shown, and at that, just one small photo of each. I'd advise anyone who's starting out to consult a field guide in addition to this book in order to get to know the considerably larger number of seriously toxic, poisonous, and suspect mushrooms that grow in the UK before putting anything you've picked into your mouth.
Thirdly, and in relation to the point above, the identification guide notes often don't include sufficient information on how to tell a mushroom from its closest poisonous lookalike. E.g. With the chanterelle we are told to be careful not to confuse it with the 'Jack O'Lantern' which 'grows on base of dying tree trunks', but beyond this, we are not told what this poisonous counterpart looks like, how it is physically distinct from the true chanterelle, nor are we told anything about the False Chanterelle and how to tell it apart from the real thing.
The section on recipes, however, is very good indeed. There's definitely an Italian influence at play, and though I've not tried any as yet, they look delicious.
The problem is, there are much better similar books out there that simply do the job better. One of the first, though it's now been reworked into a more recent version, is Antonio Carluccio's Complete Mushroom Book. He has an infectious passion for the topic (the previous title for the book was 'A Passion for Mushrooms') which combines very well with a solid field guide (though most of the pictures are taken from Roger Phillips's more exhaustive guide) and the best set of recipes of any book I've read on the subject Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt.
Another is the very good, and now revised as a smaller (small enough to take with you) paperback, The Complete Book of Mushrooms The Complete Book Of Mushrooms. It follows the same format at this one, has excellent photographs, a more comprehensive section on poisonous mushrooms, and some good recipes and notes on storage.
Better still as an all round book is the River Cottage Handbook on Mushrooms. Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1 (River Cottage Handbook). I've not yet written a review of this book, because there are already so many, and all of them say what I would have said: it's a very well written, well thought out, and sufficiently extensive book to be all you need for starting out. The key difference between the River Cottage Handbook and this, is that much more emphasis is placed on the features that distinguish, say, a field mushroom from its closest poisonous counterpart. In many cases the poisonous lookalikes (or look-a-little-bit-likes) are pictured side by side the good edible species. This is a must for the beginner in particular.
So, in short, the Edible Mushroom Book doesn't really work as a guide for the beginner for a number of reasons. However, if like me you've already got a few such books, you may well be interested in the recipes and some of the more general information provided. If you are buying this as a beginner, make sure you also buy an exhaustive field guide to read alongside it.
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