When I wrote about MushroomExpert.com, I was impressed by this comprehensive online resource for anyone wanting to know more about the mushrooms and fungi that we see in the world around us. In fact, I was so impressed with the site's content and its humorous yet thorough and responsible approach to mycology that I ordered both of site creator Michael Kuo's books right then and there. Now that I have both titles, 100 Edible Mushrooms and Morels, in my hands and have had a chance to check them out, I must say I am at least as impressed by the books as I am the website. Containing 100s of good-quality colour photographs, and descriptions in plain English, Kuo is certainly one of the most accessible mushroom authors out there. He's particularly valuable for us amateurs who just want to figure out what mushrooms we're seeing in the woods (and maybe one day eat one or two of them!). But it's really Kuo's unique step-by-step approach to learning, represented best in 100 Edible Mushrooms, that I find so appealing.
Mushroom Safety First
Firstly and most importantly, Kuo goes to great pains to emphasise the difficulty of identifying mushroom species, and to lay out the dangers of misidentification. He openly admits that he doesn't eat wild mushrooms that often because they scare him, and he describes in detail the best methodology for collecting mushrooms for identification, and for the pot. He strongly advises folks to eat nothing for the first year or two, until they are confident in identification, and that they seek the help and guidance of other local mycologists. Helpfully he also lays out some safety rules for eating any species of wild mushroom for the first time — besides being 100% sure of identification, he recommends keeping one specimen in its original condition in the fridge (should a doctor need to identify it later), to keep your local doctor and poison center's numbers close to hand, and to only ever eat a tiny amount (one or two bites).
Having laid out his position on mushroom safety, Kuo then suggests the one place where gathering mushrooms should be relatively fool proof — the store. By familiarizing themselves with store-bought mushrooms, Kuo argues, would-be amateur mycologists can safely and accurately hone their identification skills and knowledge of mushroom taxonomy. Then, having worked through the identifying features of Button Mushrooms, Portobellos, Porcini, Enoki, Oysters and Shiitake, Kuo is still not ready for us to take on the edibles in the wild. Before starting the reader on the feasts that are out there, Kuo very sensibly lays out the not-so edifying finds one may stumble across: poisonous look-alikes. Kuo strongly suggests that before you even begin to look at the easiest of wild edibles, you learn to recognise the baddies — in particular the deadly-poisonous Amanita and Galarina marginata - but also the various mushrooms more likely to give you a severe case of stomach upset than certain death. Then and only then does Kuo start to describe the various edible species out there.