Jul 8, 2009

Celebrating the Wild Mushroom

A Passionate Quest
by Sara Ann Friedman

This book is just what it says: a celebration of wild mushrooms. Its author describes in easy, flowing prose how she gradually became more and more fascinated with wild mushrooms- searching for them, collecting them, studying them and eating them. She describes various hunts for mushrooms in all different seasons, across the country, alone, in small groups of friends or in large organized forays. I never thought about mushroom-lovers having conventions, but they do! Friedman attends as an amateur and passionate mushroom hunter, rubbing shoulders with college professors who specialize in mushrooms, and eager students constantly asking "what's this one?" People who just want to paint mushrooms, or photograph them. People who are interested in wild mushrooms as culinary art, others who are fascinated by the puzzle of identifying them- there are thousands of species, and apparently no two books or field guides agree on their taxonomy or nomenclature. And of course, people who are interested in their hallucinogenic properties. Celebrating the Wild Mushroom explores all aspects of the fungi- how it has been alternately feared, loathed or practically worshiped in times past. The mysteries of its growth, the puzzles of its properties. Did you know that some mushrooms taste like chicken, or fruit? That some smell like chlorine, or burnt rubber, or fish? From the accounts of a few people who tried to subsist on mushrooms alone for a period of days, Friedman learned that mushrooms have little nutritional value- yet their flavors and textures can be delectable. Personally I like mushrooms, but I'm not crazy about them. Even though she gives a little mini field guide (with recipes) in the back of the book, I'd never be bold enough to try and eat a fungus picked off my neighbor's lawn, or dug from the leaves under a tree. But this book is so intriguing, because mushrooms are curious and fantastic things- not plant, not animal, but an entity all their own.

The only other place I've read about mushrooms before was in The Omnivore's Dilemma, but it only gets a small section there. I read this book as part of the TBR Challenge.

Rating: 4/5                 265 pages, 1986


  1. I love mushrooms! We've been getting them in our lawn, and I've often wondered if they could be eaten since we don't put any chemicals on our grass. I've not been brave or adventurous enough to check into it though. :-)


  2. I don't like mushrooms unless they're chopped up fine enough that I can't feel the texture. Blech! I've tried the mushrooms that supposedly taste like chicken, though, and to me they tasted more like scrambled eggs... which I guess means *technically* they do taste like chicken. :)

  3. What an interesting book. Mushrooms are just okay for me.

  4. I suppose we all have our passions. I like mushrooms, but if I were going to write a book it would be about cocoa beans...

  5. You do read some interesting titles! I love mushrooms, cooked with butter and wine or on pizza. Mmmm.

  6. Lezlie- I saw a small mushroom growing today out of my potato patch- and thought of this book, and wondered if it were edible. But the potatoes are sick from some insect or disease, so I don't think I'll try.

    Fyrefly- One of the interesting things is that (according to the author, I don't know) wild mushrooms have a wide variety of textures. I think one tasting like eggs would be weired than chicken!

    Bermudaonion- yeah, that's how I feel too. Unless they're cooked fabulous.

    Janet- Coffee, huh? I'd have to write my book (if it weren't about reading!!) about chocolate... I can never go without chocolate...

    Bookfool- This one was pure curiosity! It ended up being a lot better than I expected. I like mushrooms on pizza with just fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. Yum.

  7. My boyfriend just taught me about mushroom hunting at the beginning of this season. I was always sort of wary about eating things I find out in the woods as my parents always taught me to stay away from mushrooms! So I was delightened (though still apprehensive) about eating wild mushrooms. I hope we'll continue to do it, though, as it was fun and interesting.

  8. Sam- My parents always taught me to never ever eat a mushroom found growing somewhere. I've even impressed that lesson on my kid- because I just don't know how to identify them! What kinds of mushrooms did you eat? Any odd tasting ones?


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