Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book review: The Pocket Guide to Wild Mushrooms

DISCLAIMER AND STUFF: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. There was no agreement that I would necessarily write a review, and no agreement that if I did write a review, it would necessarily be a positive one.

The Pocket Guide to Wild Mushrooms. Holmberg, Pelle, and Hans Marklund.
Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY, 2013.
128 pp., about 6.5" x 5"
ISBN: 978-1-62087-731-9

This feels weird to write. I don't know anything about eating mushrooms. I don't like them on pizza (it's the texture), and I don't get a lot of other opportunities to eat them. I've also never deliberately hunted for them in the wild (though I have family members who used to collect edible mushrooms regularly, and may or may not still). So I'm not really in a position to have much use for this book personally, but . . . well, is it weird if I admit that I enjoyed it anyway, just as a bunch of cool pictures of mushrooms?

'Cause I do like pictures of mushrooms. And these are awfully good pictures. Some books would just give you a picture of one specimen of each mushroom and call it good, but this book will show you what the cap looks like from above, what it looks like from the side, what the gills look like, what the whole thing looks like in cross-section, and what it looks like at various stages of growth. I appreciate the thoroughness.

Better still, the book is very interested in making sure you can tell the difference between the mushroom you're looking at and any similar species, whether or not the other species are potentially dangerous. Granted, you'd expect that a book about wild-collecting edible mushrooms would warn you about anything that could sicken or kill you, as sort of a minimum, but I was still impressed that the book includes fairly detailed descriptions, photos, and key points of difference between the edibles and inedibles.

The Pocket Guide to Wild Mushrooms also includes, when relevant, information about how to prepare the mushrooms you've collected, noting which ones can be dried, which ones need to be cooked for a minimum length of time (and what that length of time is), what parts can be eaten, ways they're best prepared, and so on. No actual recipes, but where preparation matters to the flavor or toxicity, it gets a mention.

The worst thing about the book is probably that its geographical focus is narrow: it only really addresses mushrooms which are found in the northern U.S., Canada, and the UK. (This may be unavoidable: trying to include every edible mushroom and the potential lookalikes from every single part of the world would probably not wind up pocket-sized. One does kind of wish, though, that the title or back-cover description mentioned this somewhere.) So this is likely only useful if you live in the described region, but on the other hand, if you do, it looks pretty comprehensive. And it's a lovely book to look at either way.

Overall? I'm glad I have it (when the zombie apocalypse happens, I expect we'll need all the foraging tips we can find), I liked looking at it, and I found it interesting to read even if I'm probably not going to use it for its intended purpose. Someone who was going to use it for its intended purpose would probably get more out of it, though, obviously.

If you think you might be interested in this book and live in the U.S., Skyhorse Publishing has offered to give a copy to one PATSP reader. Leave a mushroom-related comment and an e-mail address where you can be reached if you should win. If you want to disguise your comment in some fashion to deter spambots, feel free: just make sure it's something I can untangle if the need arises.

I'll choose a winner by random number on Thursday, 15 August 2013, and send an e-mail to notify him/r and get an address to ship to and whatnot. If there's no response from the winner by Saturday, 17 August 2013, that winner forfeits, and I'll pick someone else.

EDIT 15 AUG 2013: a winner has been selected and notified.


Margaret said...

Oh, this would be exciting! I'm not sure where to forage in my area yet (new-ish here), but would love to learn. I used to hate mushrooms but have come around in the last decade. Let's see, on the cover I think I see chanterelles, morels, and.. not sure about the far lower left. Time to study up! :)
bffmargaret at gmail com

cj said...

My grandparents picked wild rooms and dried then over a floor vent heated by a coal furnace. I can't remember the exact name but it sounded something like "papinkies". Curious to know what they were. This was in Pennsylvania.

ardas said...

These pictures looks cool. Would love to get my hands on this book. Shame I'm not in US for a chance to win :D

Anonymous said...

There are an abundance of mushrooms to be found in Quebec (a lot of Oyster and Chanterelles)

In fact, a coworker of mine has been impressing us lately with his fantastic Chanterelle-picking skills. I'm hoping to one-up him a bit sometime very soon.

Plus, as a long-time stalker of this site who got started by purchasing a few of the plants on the less-picky side of your list, I'd be very excited to get my start picking mushrooms in exactly the same way.

laurence.poutine (

shayes said...

My family has a sad history with mushrooms.

The story as my 94 yr old grandmother tells it is that my grandfather died from eating poisonous mushrooms. This happened when my grandfather was fairly young so my grandmother remarried. Her second husband was died of a gunshot wound.

He wouldn't eat the mushrooms....

This is much funnier when my 94 year old grandmother tell it to you with a straight face.

So much for mushroom humor.

Emily said...

I love mushrooms! I don't know how confident I'd be in eating ones I've found myself, though...

Paul VA said...

but do they tell you which ones are the "fun" ones?

mr_subjunctive said...

Paul VA:

No, though in fairness, I don't think the fun ones grow in the northern U.S., Canada, or the UK.

cj said...

Good old Google. They are popinky or "honey mushrooms". Now you know my heritage.

Paul said...

KEWL! Used to hunt morels when I was a kid. Sautéed in butter and served along with sautéed onions with steak for dinner -- AWESOME! Believe you still have my email ... I know you have my snail mail address still. If you don't have my email still, let me know here and I'll post it (I do like to avoid leaving less of internet foot print when I can ... why give Acxiom more opportunities heh) as I would enjoy having a copy of this book.

I was your Amorphophallus supplier. ;)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, mushrooms are awesome, and I've been enjoying 'em this soggy summer. Agree with the above comment about being unsure I'd eat ones I found/IDed myself, though. ;P

amccann at