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by David Arora
"Bring home what looks like a wild onion for dinner, and no one gives it a second thought--despite the fact it might be a death camas you have, especially if you didn't bother to smell it. But bring home a wild mushroom for dinner, and watch the faces of your friends crawl with various combinations of fear, anxiety, loathing, and distrust! Appetites are suddenly and mysteriously misplaced, vague annoucements are hurriedly mumbled as to dinner engagements elsewhere, until you're fianlly left alone to "enjoy" your meal in total silence.
"For there are few things that strike as much fear in your average American as the mere mention of wild mushrooms or "toadstools". Like snakes, slugs, worms, and spiders, they're regarded as unearthly and unworthy, despicable and inexplicable--the vermin of the vegetable world. And yet, consider this: out of several thousand different kinds of wild mushrooms in North America, only five or six are deadly poisonous! And once you now what to look for, it's about as difficult to tell a deadly Amanita from a savory chanterelle as it is a lima bean from an artichoke."
We tend to fear that which we do not know, and because mushrooms are mysterious, we have a mass cultural hysteria about them. But there is no need to fear all fungi. Author David Arora is one "fun guy" you will truly love. Through his encyclopedic book, Mushrooms Demystified, Arora teaches you how to distinguish the poisonous few from the edible many. The book includes comprehensive keys to more than 2000 species from across North America, although with a definite western slant to it.
Despite the name, the book is intimidating when you first pick it up, with nearly a thousand pages of detailed text and keys. However, the more you read, the more you connect with the world of mushrooms and mushrooming. While most mushroom books are dry descriptions of the mushrooms and their uses, Aurora writes with an entertaining and human perspective that really engages the reader into the joy of mycology.
Mushrooms Demystified emphasizes the "Beginner's 70" most common and distinctive mushrooms that should be learned first. Arora uses macroscopic features for identification as much as possible, so you won't need a microscope to learn about the mushrooms you find. Neither does he use a lot of technical words in the text, although the book is fully scientific. Arora keeps it as simple and fun as possible.
There is a good gallery of color photos included in the center of the book, but the majority of the pictures are in black and white. Although a bit too bulky to throw in the back-pack, Mushrooms Demystified is an essential reference book to identify or verify the mushrooms you find. The book also covers mushroom cookery, preservation, and toxins, plus it includes an insightful dictionary to the meaning of the scientific names. The publisher even included a handy ruler printed right on the back cover for easy measuring. Mushrooms Demystified was first published in 1979, then revised and expanded to cover more of the country, with updated text and photos. It has long been considered the mushroom-hunter's Bible. Ten Speed Press. ISBN: 0-89815-169-4. Second Edition, 1986. 959 pages. Cost: $40.00.
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