CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Wild Mushroom Cookbook,
Recipes from Mendocino

By Alison Gardner & Merry Winslow
2014, Self-Published
Paperback, 19.95, 288 pages
$25.00 (S & H Included)
ISBN: 978-0-9904400-0-0

Hot off the press in November 2014 is The Wild Mushroom Cookbook, Recipes from Medocino by Alison Gardner and Merry Winslow. This 288-page cookbook focuses on edible macro fungi prevalent in the Medocino, California region (about 150 miles NW of San Francisco), but is a resource useful for anyone interested in whipping up tasty wild mushroom recipes.

Though lacking the pretty photos mushroom-related texts usually include, the writing is excellent and often includes humor and sometimes a poetic reverence for our fungal world. Paper quality is pleasing and page size appropriate. The preface includes a bit of advice for proper collection methods with “pick gently and only those specimens you plan to eat” (more detail regarding safety and ecology included in introduction).

The introduction is clear in its purpose with, “This is not a mushroom identification book…” and recommends those who hunt wild mushrooms for the pot really know their fungi. Also included is the appropriate “scare paragraph” for the newbies regarding correct mushroom ID. There is a great description of the authors and their journeys in writing the cookbook. Following the Introduction is a brief description of 34 species groups in “The Mushrooms” section. Descriptions of mushrooms include general recommendations for dishes, the strength of flavor and subtlety of odors for ID and culinary nuances. It would’ve been useful, and more visually appealing, to see at least one photo of the most common species of each genus mentioned. This would’ve especially been instructive, in my opinion, as it’s my experience that many newbies are primarily interested in edibles. Though it’s not a mushroom guide, it would’ve been nice to start folks off right with some of the more common mushrooms pictured. However, with printing expenses what they are these days (no need to tell FUNGI staff about this topic!), I expect it was most likely a deal breaker regarding publishing and printing prices, so I’d rather have a great cookbook going to press than pretty photos. There are, however, whimsical, sketch-like watercolor drawings included in the text – illustrated by co-author Merry Winslow. It would’ve been a nice touch to include page numbers under each type of mushroom referencing potential recipes. This is a book for home cooks and skill level of the recipes ranges from beginner to intermediate. Also included in “The Mushrooms” section is an explanation of special techniques to use with different mushrooms, and which methods can be used to preserve the different species.

Throughout the book, there is good mention of scientific and common names where appropriate and a clear attempt to include the most current nomenclature. I personally appreciated the clear mention of some questionably edible Leccinum species and their potential upset, though even in my home state of Colorado there is some debate as to the “poisonous Leccinum.” I love how nature keeps us on our toes … and humble (at least some of the time). I especially loved some of the humor in the writing including, “Most species of Suillus are quite slimy when cooked fresh, and make an excellent facsimile of fried banana slugs.”  

Now to the recipes. While I enjoy cooking, I am personally very busy and cooking for one is a challenge, so cookbooks sometimes seem a bit overwhelming to me. That’s why when I read a recipe, I want it to be easily understood, succinct, and “just the facts ma’am.” While mention is sometimes made, in the recipe intro, of alternative mushrooms appropriate for a recipe (often just one alternate) and since so many mushrooms were mentioned prior to recipes, it would’ve been nice to have an easy-to-read list of alternates for each recipe. For example, “any wild mushroom can be used” or “mushroom candidates: chanterelle, hedgehog …” listed would be easier to reference when I come home from the woods and have a specific amount of X kind of mushrooms I want to use. Clear effort was made to use italics to note specific epithets. This was a nice touch versus using common names exclusively as common names can be region-specific and inconsistent. I found the opposite page heading, noting the recipe section you’re reading, very useful (soups, for example).  

There’s a great variety of recipes from “Breakfast Foods” (my favorite meal of the day personally – a great way to start – can you say “Candy Cap Granola”) to “Appetizers, Dips, and Spreads” to the classic soups, salads, and entrées. But also included, to my delight, were “Pickled and Marinated Mushrooms,” “Breads,” and “Desserts” (among others). Many recipes included mushroom powder as an ingredient – great for those dried mushrooms. Also included are “Sauces, Marinades, and Gravies” as well as “Sandwiches” and “Drinks.” Most of the drinks and desserts include candy caps (with a few other species mentioned), but the miscellaneous section is intriguing as it includes beefsteak jerky, mushroom salts, and directions for smoked mushrooms. For those of you not living in northern California, candy caps are a distinct pleasure and I expect online store orders to jump after you read these delicious-sounding recipes. If you haven’t tasted a candy cap mushroom, or haven’t had the joy of opening your cabinet to the sweet caramely, mapley smell (that lingers for years), order some today! Or, better yet, contact that friend you have on the West Coast and invite yourself for a January visit to collect some yourself!  

Though maybe it wouldn’t follow cookbook convention, but, again, for quick reference, I would’ve liked the ingredient list to mention the mushroom ingredient first so I could easily see how much I would need. Recipe origins range from classic American (e.g., things my Grandmother used to make like Green Bean Casserole) to Asian and European. There’s also added variety with Mexican-inspired dishes to curries and a few recipes originating in Africa. Some recipes are reprinted from Gathered Mushroom Recipes, a collection of recipes by Teresa Sholars’s 1981 mushroom class at the Mendocino Coast Branch of College of the Redwoods.  

Following the recipes is a section entitled “Recommended Reading” listing useful mushroom guides specific to the West Coast and California. The authors worked hard to address various aspects in the index, listing items by mushroom common name, mushroom scientific name, and then names of recipes and ingredients. Some mushrooms are even listed by multiple common names such as “boletes (Boletus spp.). See also admirable bolete; gambonis; king bolete; porcini.” One minor edit in eggplant listings would be the pages indexed for Boletus edulis listed under page 173, but actually on pp. 172-173.  

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in cooking, wild foraging, mushrooms, or the West Coast. It has something for everyone and would be a great cookbook to add to your shelf – most likely destined for multiple food soiled and well-worn pages.  



— Review by Virginia Till
— Originally published in Fungi