CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Fruits of the Forest:
A Field Guide to Pacific Northwest Edible Mushrooms

By Daniel Winkler
2023; Mountaineers Books
ISBN 978-1-68051-530-5
(Paperback, 14 × 21.5 cm, 398 pp.)
(available from the publisher or directly from the author at

Fungal entrepreneur Daniel Winkler’s name probably is familiar to most veteran FUNGI readers, if not for the articles he has contributed, then for the ads promoting his Mushroaming tours to exotic locales, Bolete MycoCards, and fold-out identification guides that often grace the pages of this journal. The newest edition to his stable of products is this field guide to edible mushrooms found in the Pacific Northwest (although many of them also occur outside our region).

What’s in the book? The contents consist of Introduction; How To Use This Guide. Part One: The Hunt (Getting to Know Mushrooms; Collecting, Cleaning, and Preserving Mushrooms). Part Two: The Mushrooms (Ascomycetes: Morels; False Morels and Cups; Truffles and Lobsters; Basidiomycetes: Jelly Fungi; Chanterelles, Hedgehogs, Pig’s Ears, and More; Boletes; Polypores and Allies; Puffballs and Stinkhorns; Corals, Clubs, and the Like; Gilled Mushrooms [subdivided by spore color]). Part Three: The Recipes (Appetizers, Snacks, and Side Dishes; Soups and Sauces; Hearty Meals, Drinks and Desserts).

The material up through Part One is pretty much the typical field guide introduction to mushrooms and mushrooming, although with more detail on cooking with and preserving them than most field guides provide. Oddly, similar to what I have found in reviewing some other books, the section, How To Use This Guide, doesn’t actually tell you how to use the book as part of its discussion of how to identify mushrooms.

The discussions of the approximately 170 species (not all of them edible) account for the largest portion of the book. The entries have an English language name (unfortunately, too many of them are newly coined to meet the publisher’s demands and are by no means “common”) as the main heading, while the scientific binomial appears below it in a smaller font. Most then have a paragraph of general commentary, a bullet list of key identification features, and brief discussions of medicinal uses (if any), possible look-alike species, and name and taxonomy (author and meaning of the name, sometimes family and order to which the genus belongs, sometimes synonyms [including alternative common names] and misapplied names [usually not distinguished from each other]). A system of occasional icons is used to call attention to particular species. Thirty-three are indicated with a single exclamation mark as “Requires special preparation and/or caution; may cause digestive upset.” (The latter point is a good one to know in a book about edible mushrooms.) Seventeen are indicated with double exclamation marks as “Difficult to identify; may have dangerous look-alikes.” Three are indicated with question marks as “Not well established as edible.” (Also good to know in a book about edible mushrooms.) Six are indicated with a large X as “Toxic; may cause severe discomfort.” And nine are indicated with a skull and crossbones as “Deadly; high probability of organ failure.” So don’t jump to the conclusion that if a species is included in the book, it is safe to eat!

With occasional exceptions, the information presented is accurate and, when it comes to edibility, it is often based on Daniel’s first-hand experience. The photos are of decent size and show the mushrooms well. Many are quite attractive but, in a number of others, the color is overly saturated, sometimes to the point of being unrealistic. Scattered throughout the book are many interesting sidebars discussing such things as processing and cooking truffles, spore printing, matsutake around the world, and oyster oddities and facts.

A number of the “edible” species are rather dubious inclusions. While they probably can be eaten safely by most people, it’s not clear how many find them worth eating, even occasionally. Some examples of these are Alloclavaria purpurea, Marasmius plicatulus, and Tricholomopsis rutilans. Amanita augusta is said to be “non-toxic to most” (based on the experience of how many testers?) and that “its texture and flavor are dull.” So why include it, especially when confusion with members of the poisonous A. pantherina group would seem to be quite possible? Laccaria amethysteo-occidentalis, as a result of its alleged propensity to accumulate arsenic, is characterized as “probably better experienced visually, not viscerally!” Volvariella bombycina, known as a decent edible in eastern North America, is included even though it is extremely rare, if present at all, in the PNW—and something that rare should not be collected for the table anyway.

Those who know Daniel personally will recognize his distinctive character in the writing, in part reflecting his origin as a youthful steinpilz-forager in the German Alps. For instance, in discussing the elfin saddle, Helvella vespertina, he says “Black Elfin Saddles are as gothic as a mushroom can be, and they fruit just in time for Halloween! Even the scientific name seems to suggest a ‘hell of a mushroom’ but actually means ‘small pot vegetable’ in Latin.” Or, with respect to Tricholoma murrillianum, “Though the combination of fragrance and firmness makes matsutake a safe-to-identify mushroom, unfortunately, each year a few people cook Amanitas and fry their kidneys!”

While I rarely eat mushrooms and never cook them myself, I think that if I did, I would find several things worth trying among the 25 varied recipes presented in Part Three. They appear to be easy enough to follow and most of them include a photo of the finished dish. Those of you who know me will be able to predict accurately that my favorite among them would be the candy cap butter cookies.

I suspect this book will find a wide audience in the PNW and perhaps beyond. As with all guides that deal with only (or at least mostly) edible mushrooms, I highly recommend using the book in conjunction with other, more general, guides and making a concerted effort to become familiar with as wide a range of mushrooms as possible. The more familiar one becomes, the better able you are to appreciate the oftentimes subtle differences among species that can be important. Start with learning to confidently recognize the ones that can kill you. From there, go to the common, popular, and relatively easy to identify species like golden chanterelles, king bolete, and morels. Once armed with some experience, then expand your myco-culinary horizons gradually. With luck, you’ll find a species that is extremely common in your area but esteemed by hardly anyone else. Why get caught up in the competitive rat race with all the other chanterelle hunters? Happy hunting!

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi