This is a weird fact about me: when I go hiking (which isn’t something I necessarily love when it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside), I’m usually watching the ground for mushrooms. I like them and I like the way they look, and that’s why I’m glad I’m reviewing Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz’s book, “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California.”
When I received this book from Blogging for Books, I was surprised at the size of it; I initially thought that it would be like a field guide, which is my own fault for not looking at the dimensions, but the specificity of the title suggests that it’s something you would want to have on you if you were foraging for mushrooms in Coastal Northern California and wanted to know whether or not what you were picking was edible. That said, I’m actually glad for the size. It feels like an encyclopedia more than a “guide,” which is cool.
The images within the book are clear and in full color, making it easy to identify the type of mushroom you’re looking at even if you don’t know its scientific name. Many mushrooms look similar, and I think Siegel and Schwarz do a good job of pointing out the subtle differences that a mushroom layman like myself wouldn’t have noticed.
What I think my favorite thing about this book is though is the section in each description regarding how edible the mushroom is or is not. Most of them read as either “toxic” or “unknown, probably toxic,” which is fair–they’re mushrooms. The fact that we eat them at all despite the fact that they have roughly the same consistency as a 30 year old preserved human brain (speaking from experience) says something about humanity’s willingness to do things that put them in danger. In fact, in some cases where they mention that it’s unknown whether or not a mushroom is toxic, there are warnings to not try eating it anyway since other mushrooms in that family are known to be toxic. They’ve covered their rears in protecting people from dangerous mushrooms. Cool. Not what I’m super excited about.
I love the fact that they include preparation suggestions for the mushrooms you can eat. That is my favorite thing. Chroogomphus tomentosus: “Edible, but it cooks up to a slimy purple mess.” Boletus barrowsii: “Edible and excellent! Very firm, with a lovely, sweet odor and nutty taste. As for most boletes, drying concentrates flavor and emphasizes rich earthy tones (at the expense of the delicate, sweet odor and flavors present when fresh).” They mark when something can cause gastric upset or is known to cause allergic reactions. They’re very obviously enthusiastic about the mushrooms they like, and you get the feeling that they’ve actually tried them and aren’t regurgitating back information when you see things like that exclamation point. I love it. It’s so genuine and sweet and not something I necessarily expected from a guide to nature.
Honestly, if I hadn’t gotten my copy of the book as a free review copy from Blogging for Books, I still think it’s something that I would have picked up. Like I said before, I like mushrooms, and it’s such a visually appealing book (especially for that special interest group) that I enjoyed flipping through it as much as I enjoyed reading the descriptions for the mushrooms themselves. The only downside is really the dimensions of the book. I know if it had been a field guide, it probably would have had twice as many pages since fewer entries could have been made per page, but it’s a bummer to think that this is probably not something that could easily fit into a hiking back since it would be so useful to have. Maybe in the future we’ll see a “Comprehensive Field Guide to Edible Fungi of Coastal Northern California.” Who knows.
It’s definitely worth the list price of $35 in my opinion. You can check out more about the book here.