CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of New York

By Alan E. and Arleen R. Bessette
Syracuse University Press, 2006
ISBN 0-8156-0848-9, $24.95

The latest offering from prolific book-producers Alan and Arleen Bessette is a slim, but attractive, guidebook offering advice for those interested in eating the wild mushrooms of New York state while staying out of the emergency room.

A brief 5 pages of introductory material includes mushroom basics, how to collect mushrooms for the table, how to make a spore print, and how to identify mushrooms using this book. This is followed by a picture “key” to 10 main morphological groups of mushrooms -- boletes, chanterelles, corals, false morels, gilled fungi, giant puffballs, Hypomyces, morels, polypores, and toothed fungi. For each group, a one-sentence description is provided along with two example photographs and page references to the species treatments in the main text.


The bulk of the book comprises the species descriptions, separated into edible and inedible/poisonous ones. Typically the treatments appear on a 2-page spread and include a generously sized photograph. As we’ve come to expect from the Bessettes, the photos are uniformly excellent, showing the essential features in an attractive fashion. The text includes the scientific and common names, a list of key ID features, fruit body description, time and place of fruiting, edibility, and brief comments. Twenty species are featured in the edibles section and 10 in the inedibles section. Additionally, 11 edible species are mentioned in comments and illustrated in the picture key at the front of the book. Two more edible species are mentioned in comments, but not illustrated. Most of the species range well beyond New York state.

The book concludes with guidelines for preparing and eating wild mushrooms, a selection of 7 illustrated recipes, glossary, list of recommended readings (9 of 10 of which are by the Bessettes), and separate indexes to common and scientific names.

The strength of the book is its quality presentation -- well illustrated, attractive, informative, clearly written, and free of misspellings and typographical errors. However, it doesn’t deliver enough to justify its price -- only a bit over 100 pages (many of them half white space) and about 40 species covered, nearly all of them ones you would find in many existing guides. If you’re an eastern mushroomer with at least a few books, for instance the Audubon guide and the Bessettes’ Mushrooms of Northeastern North America, this volume will be largely superfluous. It will be most attractive to hikers and park-visitors with a casual interest in mushrooms, or novice pot-hunters, perhaps as a gift for that friend of yours interested in joining you in your hobby.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 47:6, 2006