By Tom Nauman
The first question is always "What is it?" Which is immediately followed by "Is it edible?" I learned a new reply for that one recently and that is that every mushroom is edible - once! Sometimes I can answer the questions on my own. But, more often than not, I need to refer to my mushroom field guides.
Last month I mentioned discrepancies among some of the field guides when I checked the edibility of of the stinkhorn mushrooms found near Shelbyville. Being in the mushroom business allows me to collect and sell field guides that pertain to my favorite subject. I've noticed when identifying a new-to-me variety that there are quite a few differences among the guides I use for reference. At the end of every column I also advise my readers to "Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts." The reason for suggesting the use of at least two field guides is specifically because the guides don't always agree.
Additionally, if you check two or more field guides, you may be better able to identify the mushroom you have found correctly. There have been numerous times that friends or family have presented a mushroom to me for identification that I can't give them a precise answer. I can get close and figure out what family the subject is from, but not close enough to make it my "final" answer. Either the mushroom isn't shown, isn't shown well enough to identify, or is shown one way by one guide and differently by another. I have ten different mushroom field guides in my personal library so it can be pretty confusing.
One of the big differences and subject of controversy in field guides on any subject is whether they have true photographs, or artists illustrations. My opinion is that good photos are better than poor illustrations and that good illustrations are better than poor photos. And, good color is better than black and white. I am a morel specialist and I tend to form first opinions of new field guides by the depiction and description given to morels because it is easy for me to tell how detailed and correct the author is.
I'm going to describe the mushroom field guides that are sold by Morel Mania and give a brief description. I'm only listing the ones we sell because it is my column and I can get away with it. I'll try to cover some of the other field guides in a future column.
EYEWITNESS HANDBOOKS MUSHROOMS by Laessoe and Lincoff. 500 mushrooms described; 2300 beautiful color photos; 304 pages; size 6" x 8.5"; price - $19.95. This is usually the first book I reach for. It shows several photos of each mushroom from different angles, cross-sectioned, and in the mushrooms normal habitat. It also gives a visual size comparison, is keyed for edibility, and list similar species when applicable.
MUSHROOM IDENTIFIER by Peter Jordan. 200 mushrooms described, 300 plus color photographs; 132 pages; size 7" x 9"; price - $9.95. Uniquely separated edible and poisonous sections with preparation, storage, and cooking tips for the edible varieties. It reads very easily and is half the price of most field guides.
MUSHROOMS DEMYSTIFIED by David Arora. 2000 plus mushrooms described; 800 plus photographs (200 in color, balance black and white); 960 pages; size 6" x 9"; price $39.95. Referred to as "The Mushroom Hunter's Bible", It is the most complete book of its kind. Advise on cooking and eating.
ALL THAT THE RAIN PROMISES by David Arora. 200 plus mushrooms described; 500 color photographs; 264 pages; size 4" x 7"; price - $17.95. Pocket size for true field use. Written for Western North America, but many of the mushrooms can be found in the Midwest also. The mushroom humor is alone is worth the price of the book.
PETERSON FIELD GUIDES - MUSHROOMS by Kent and Vera McKnight. 1000 plus mushrooms described; color illustrations; 432 pages; size 4.5" x 7.5"; price $18.00. I find this book very easy to use. Petersons groups the illustrations so that it is easy to find what you're looking for visually then go to the keyed descriptions. Recipes included.
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available http://www.morelmania.com/5Mushrooms/index.html. Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960, Business Hours: 7:00 am. to 7:00 pm. CST. Monday through Saturday. Tom@MorelMania.com.