I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a River Cottage fanatic. Yes, that means this book “review” is going to be biased, and I’m probably viewing it through rose tinted glasses (my copy was pre-ordered the moment I heard about it and the signed copy arrived last week with the accompanying DVD!). The River Cottage bubble still hasn’t burst, even though this is the fifth book to bear the name. Many others now try and replicate the formula (and that’s no bad thing) but noone can quite come close to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.
It’s quite important to note that this book isn’t actually written by Hugh, but instead by John Wright, who River Cottage fans such as myself will remember from the episode where he accompanied Hugh and a pig on a truffle hunt in a nearby forest. You can rest assured though, that none of the original charm has been lost.
My own mushroom hunting is a fairly haphazard affair, where I generally end up with nothing more special than a few “slippery jacks” or “parasols”. Perhaps I don’t know enough to find anything better, or the woods where I go just isn’t suitable for any of the great mushrooms to grow. Failing actually managing to find a friend with the same warped interests as myself, I need a good book to help me. This, I’m happy to say, is the book I was looking for.
Where to start? Well, here’s the first thing that grabbed me – the pictures. I already have a couple of mushroom books, one of which has drawings (pah, how’s that supposed to help an amateur?), the other has barely any photos at all. The River Cottage Mushoom Handbook, however, has full colour photographs of all the mushrooms in question, alongside photos of some of the “nasty” look-a-likes (invaluable. Who want to play Russian Roulette with their ‘shrooms?).
It’s not the most concise mushroom identification book available by a long way, but probably the most practical one on the market. My version is hardback and small (not quite trouser pocket size, but perhaps a large jacket pocket would work), a comes with a printed sleeve – rather than one of those “slip over” sleeves which all hardbacks seem to come as nowadays. That means it’s perfect for taking along into the forest on those searching expeditions.
The book is also written in such a way as to entirely avoid those yawn inducing moments you might expect of mycology. Here’s an example, with reference to the well known “fly agaric” toadstool:
“One can look forward to feelings of floating, exaggerated movements, cramps, tremors and even muscle spasms. This all sounds rather to scary for me…”.
Oh dear! Looks like there’s one to avoid, then. Moving on, The final section of the book, some sixty pages or so, is happily dedicated to good old recipes, all simple enough so as to not lose that all important mushroom flavour. How does “mushroom pate” grab you?
All in all, this is a great little book and a great start to the River Cottage Handbook series. We can apparently look forward to several of these each year, one of which currently in progress is to be called “Edible Seashore“, also by John Wright. if so, I’ll be a happy man!
NOTE: Finally…I’d love to see anyone who loves seasonal food joining in with a little event we have going on later this month called “In The Bag”. Here’s the link for some more info!