Fungi by Michael Jordan

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Fungi by Michael Jordan

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An excellent book for a mycologist or naturalist but far too specialised for the amateur mushroom hunter.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 334 Date: September 2004
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Publishers
ISBN: 0711223793

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Here at Bookbag Towers a friend of ours who collects his own wild mushrooms has been trying to persuade us to do the same. I've always resisted the idea but then I read the synopsis for this book on Amazon and discovered that it was "for the dedicated mycologist, general naturalist or mushroom hunter collecting for the cooking pot." It seemed to be exactly what I wanted, so I paid my money and took my chance.

I bought this book as a potential "mushroom hunter collecting for the cooking pot". I'm reviewing the book from that perspective and not as a dedicated mycologist or general naturalist. I have no expertise or interest in being either and a mycologist or naturalist would certainly review the book differently.

There are over 1000 species of fungi in the British Isles and Northern Europe. The vast majority are inedible, some are poisonous and some are so poisonous as to be lethal even in small quantities. Michael Jordan categorises each as "edible", "inedible", "poisonous" or "lethally poisonous". With each specimen it's very easy to see which category it falls into. Each category is expanded where appropriate, so that you can see whether the fungi is "edible but of no culinary value" right through to the ultimate "edible and excellent". That's very useful as there's no point in collecting mushrooms if you're not going to be repaid with flavour.

When I first opened the book I was annoyed that there were photographs of specimens, but no text to identify them. Reading on I realised that this was quite deliberate as the book is meant to be used in a specific way and it's been deliberately made difficult to use it in any other way. Rather than going to a picture and comparing it to your mushroom, you're advised to go through a series of questions about your sample and depending on the answer move on to other questions and an eventual suggestion as to what you might have picked. Then you can go and look at the picture and supplementary text.

This should work well for someone with a knowledge of botany. I have little. A glossary is supplied and all the details are there, but my one attempt to identify a wild mushroom felt like trying to translate a foreign newspaper with the aid of a phrase book. It would probably become easier with practice because all the information is there, even down to a colour chart, but on reading the book I vividly remembered why I've always resisted the idea of mushroom collecting other than from the greengrocer. Rather a lot of them are poisonous, some of the inedible ones are also "possibly poisonous" and there are a few that are lethally poisonous. You could die from eating these things. Even with the ones that are "edible and good" you may well find a note to say that 10% of the population may suffer an allergic reaction if they eat the mushroom. That's commonly known as chicken of the woods, by the way.

No, I'm afraid the book wasn't for me and nor is mushroom hunting. I'm grateful to Mr Jordan for learning that much.

I might have faired better with a little technical knowledge as Michael Jordan has obviously put a lot of work and thought into the book. Each species is photographed in natural light, in situ, so that you can see what it really looks like and, more importantly, where you are likely to find it. Michael Jordan's photography is not always to the standard of a professional photographer, but I would think that it's generally sufficient to make an identification. There are three pictures plus accompanying text to a page, and six to a double spread. It makes good use of the space without being overcrowded.

I have a minor quibble with the index: it gives the Latin name rather than that by which it is commonly known. I saw "oyster mushroom" in the text and wanted to refer to it again - but it's not in the index. I suspect this is deliberate, to stop people looking at a mushroom and saying "I reckon that it's a chantrelle" only to find later that they've got something similar which is lethally poisonous.

It's a good book - carefully researched and laid out with thought - but I'm afraid it's not for the amateur mushroom hunter.

You might appreciate The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species From Around The World by Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans.

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