Book Review

Field Guide to North American Truffles: Hunting, Identifying, and Enjoying the World’s most Prized Fungi

By Matt Trappe, Frank Evans, and James Trappe
2007; Ten Speed Press; $16.95
ISBN 978-1-58008-862-6 (paperback)

Probably every mushroom hunter knows what truffles are, but hardly anyone at a foray can, for instance, tell a Gymnomyces from an Arcangeliella. Most mushroom field guides include only a token Tuber or a Rhizopogon or two, in part because of the difficulty in identifying them and in part because it’s tough to produce an award-winning photograph of one of these “little potatoes.” So there’s really been nowhere to turn for placing names on these ecologically important fungi. Thus, this little guide will be a welcome addition to mushroom libraries, particularly for those of us in western North America.

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Lead author Matt Trappe is the son of third author Jim Trappe, who is unquestionably the world’s foremost authority on the taxonomy of truffles. Sandwiched between the two Trappes is Frank Evans, a passionate truffle hunter and one of the founding members of the North American Truffling Society (NATS).

The first thing to note about the book is its compact size—about 10 x 17 cm (4 x 7 inches), 1 cm (<1/2 inch) thick, and 136 pages total. Thus, it is affordable and easily transportable, but this comes at a cost—more about that later.

The introductory materials include what truffles are, how and when to find them, how to identify them, culinary considerations, and a discussion of scientific and common names. The bulk of the book is devoted to the species profiles—90 of them are illustrated and described, 88 on one page each and two on two pages each. Each profile includes a macro-photo, which usually includes both an exterior view of the peridium and an interior view of the gleba, and a small micro-photo of the spores. This is followed by a listing of the group (Ascomycetes, Basidiomycetes) and family to which the species belongs, fruiting season, distribution, habitat, spore characteristics, morphologic features, comments, and desirability rating (delicious, tasty, palatable, insipid, or inedible). Species are arranged alphabetically and there are no keys. The back sections include meanings of genus names and species epithets, references (three of them), and index.

As would be expected, the authors are most familiar with the fungi from their own backyards, which happen to be in Corvallis, Oregon. Thus, species from Oregon and other parts of the Pacific Northwest are well represented, while far fewer eastern species appear. By my count, the 90 species are distributed as follows: four worldwide, 15 throughout North America or the Northern Hemisphere, 40 in the Pacific Northwest or southward along the West Coast, 22 in western North America, and nine in eastern North America. So 90% of the species occur in the West, compared to about 30% in the East.

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Now, back to the small size. Unfortunately, the compact format causes the photos to be rather small and, although most of them are of good quality, in many cases the size prevents many necessary details, such as the texture of the peridium and arrangement of the gleba, from being clearly visible. Likewise, the descriptions and comments about similar looking species are rather brief. Thus, while the profiles may be adequate for a casual user, the serious identifier often will be left needing more details about the fungus in question as well as information about similar species to pin down an identification. Further, the lack of references to the technical literature will make it difficult to track down the necessary information elsewhere.

Thus, it’s a shame this couldn’t have been a larger book with more information and larger photos. However, it’s a good first a toward making truffle identification information widely available and it will at least allow you to tell Gymnomyces abietis from Arcangeliella crassa!

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi

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