CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Beginner’s Guide to Mushrooms: Everything You Need to Know from Foraging to Cultivating

By Britt A. Bunyard & Tavis Lynch
2021, Quarry Books
ISBN-13: 978-1-63159-911-8
ISBN-10: 1631599119
eISBN: 978-163159-912-5
$24.99 USA; £18.99 UK; $32.99 CAN; paper; 160 pages
Dimensions: 8.7 x 0.75 x 10.1 inches

Every lifelong pursuit begins with an initial spark of interest, and a fascination with mushrooms is no exception. It seems that almost every mycologist and mushroom enthusiast can tell you about the moment they were introduced to the world of fungi. It could have been on a mushroom hunt, a field trip or a total coincidence, when a magical introduction to mycology was the beginning of a personal odyssey.
The next step on this journey is figuring out how to start. How can someone begin making sense of this strange world of lookalikes and binomial names? Britt A. Bunyard and Tavis Lynch’s The Beginner’s Guide to Mushrooms is a helpful map for a traveler’s first journey into the world of mushrooms.

Sometimes, mushroom guidebooks can be intimidating for beginners, especially if they assume some degree of existing knowledge from their readers. I remember reading some mushroom books for beginners in the past that lost me in the first few pages; either because their terminology was ill-defined, their approach was too confusing, or my understanding of basic organic chemistry was just completely lacking.

I am pleased to say that The Beginner’s Guide to Mushrooms lives up to its title. It is structured in a sensible, step-by-step fashion that builds upon previously introduced information and assumes nothing of its readers. The book starts with the very basics of what fungi are, and it introduces the foundational terminology of mycology. The introductory section also includes pragmatic guidelines for collecting wild mushrooms safely and respectfully, which is absolutely what every beginner should learn first.

While I might not be a true “beginner” mushroom enthusiast anymore, I am certainly an amateur, especially when it comes to identifying uncommon, non-edible species. Identification is a skill I am hoping to learn, and while I have made semi-honest attempts in the past, they have been thwarted by a combination of the previously mentioned confusing books and my own laziness. I was excited to read this beginner’s guide with the goal of learning more about identification, and I was not disappointed.

After a clear discussion of the different parts of typical mushrooms, the book dives right into identification. Instead of arranging them by their alien-sounding (to the beginner at least) genus names like Sparassis, Artomyces, or Dacrymyces, the authors take a logical approach and divide the mushrooms by their most-identifiable common characteristics: “agarics with pale spores,” “agarics with pink spores,” “shelf-like mushrooms with gills,” “coral-like mushrooms,” etc. This is a lot of ground to cover, and indeed, over half the book is the identification section. This is part of the mushroom journey where actually “nerding out” with diligent study is required, and this book makes it accessible and enjoyable.

The last two sections of the book cover mushroom cultivation and culinary uses, two areas where even the most well-traveled mycophile can always learn new things. I am excited to try and grow some blewits on composted leaves this fall and experiment with inoculating straw. There is also an extremely helpful spreadsheet on how to best preserve culinary mushrooms that I will photocopy and keep on my refrigerator door, as well as effective methods of cleaning and preparing mushrooms. Worth the price of admission alone are the incredible recipes included, such as Chef Michael Blackwell’s “Wild Mushroom Ragout” from the Breitenbush Mushroom Gathering and Eugenia Bone’s “Creamy Chicken Thighs with Morels.”

A Beginners Guide to Mushrooms is a great library addition for people at any stage of their journey. However, it feels good to know that the next time I encounter some starry-eyed, aspiring mushroom hunter on their first foray, I can tell them, “I have a book to recommend to you.”

— Review by Tristan Stoch
— Originally published in Fungi