Edible & Poisonous Mushroom of the World
by Ian Hall, Steven Stephenson, et al.
pub. Timber Press, 2003
Hardback, 372 pages, £29.99
ISBN 0 88192 586 1
If you are like this reviewer, your experience of edible fungi is probably limited to the usual supermarket fodder, an occasional chance to get your hands on saucer-sized field mushrooms, or treat yourself to some exotic dish incorporating chantarelles, oyster mushrooms, or ceps in a fashionable restaurant. This book will open your eyes!
It is a magnificent work, written by four experts, and full of excellent photographs; the content of which looks quite extraordinary in some instances, with swathes of fungi engulfing tree stumps, and colours and shapes that almost defy description. In reading this volume, you begin to realise what an extraordinary world mycologists - those who study fungi - inhabit.
The first hundred or so pages are divided into two sections; the first on the cultivation of a variety of edible fungi [one gets the impression that the Japanese and Chinese seem to have a particular fondness for rearing strange looking fungi], followed by some serious words on collecting edible wild fungi and the risks of poisoning. The authors point out that in the interest of brevity - the book's remit being edible mushrooms of the world - 'many hundreds of species of questionable or unknown edibility have been omitted, as have a large number of lesser edible mushrooms that may be important in one country but not in others.' Readers are advised to consult localised field guides for a fuller regional picture of what is available, or not.
Descriptions of each fungi is very matter of fact and to the point; not chatty or littered with anecdotes. Where the plants are edible, the authors provide details as in the case of the Shaggy Ink Cap which does 'not look very appetizing but do have a good flavor, though they must be cooked within a few hours of picking.' Another of the ink caps, we learn, produces such bad side effects when consumed with alcohol that the 'symptoms are so unpleasant that the mushroom has been used to cure alcoholics.' Now you know!
The last part of the book contains a glossary of Chinese names of mushrooms, addresses of some national mycological societies, a list of useful mycology and mushroom websites, a glossary, and a huge list of reference works and sources.