Book Review: Field Guide to Mushrooms and other Fungi of South Africa

Gary B Goldman and Marieka Gryzenhout

Struik Nature

Penguin Random House

Review: Brian Joss

Everything you want to know about mushrooms and fungi, even things you didn’t think you wanted to know is packed into this full colour guide which will neatly into your backpack when you go foraging for this delicacy which grows in most parts of South Africa.

Mushrooms constitute an unique group of organisms and fit neatly between plant and fowl although they are neither. But who doesn’t enjoy a creamy mushroom soup or pasta with wild mushrooms and garlic, recipes for these dishes are included at the back of the guide.

Although the authors don’t tell you specifically where on  the Garden Route they are widespread across South Africa. Fungus fall under the mushroom classification and there are many unusual-looking fungus and for the most part they are inedible, and you can see that just by looking at them. There are also poisonous mushrooms that can be fatal, but the authors have taken greay pains to identify these.

Scutellinia scutellata, known as an Eyelash cup is inedible, in any case it is too small to be of any culinary interest. It is an orange-red colour with long dark=brown hairs along the cup; another, that is also inedible, is the Bladder Cup fungus, is suspect and poisonous when eaten raw although some authorities say you can eat if it is well cooked but I would keep it one the suspect list along with the Pilobolus crystallinus  aka the Hat-thrower fungus which grows in the dung of plant-eating animals.

However, for every odd-looking fungus there are many more tasty mushrooms. 

Just to tempt you here are some: Imteria (Bay bolete), delicious for all meals, especially breakfast; Boletus edulus (squirrel’s bread), a forager’s delight, the authors write; Coprimus comatus(lawyer’s wig), delicate flavour when young before the spores ripen: Agaricus bisporus), button mushroom, full of flavour and is available commercially throughout the year.

Many mushrooms look attractive but they are deadly poisonous and can be fatal, However, if you follow the authors’ descriptions you won’t go wrong. Goldman and Gryzenhout have categorised more than 850 species of mushrooms. Each image has a detailed description, where you can find them, if they’re edible or deadly. The mushrooms all have descriptive English and Afrikaans names, which is no indicator as to their suitability as food.

The introduction outlines the basic and biology of mushrooms and there is a guide to foraging and how to pick them. Rule number is “know your hunting ground”. They also give advice about how to avoid mushroom poisoning which can be “very unpleasant”.

Goldman is a mushroom specialist in Cape Town and is known as the Mushroom Fundi and Gryzenhout (PhD) is a lecturer in the Department of Genetics at the University of the Free State, and like the Mushroom Fundi is a passionate mycologist. Some recipes for mushroom dishes are included.

Field Guide to Mushrooms and other Fungi of South Africa is an invaluable guide for the expert mycologist, the keen forager and the amateur,  It is the ideal book to set you on the road to a tasty and enjoyable hobby. It will slip easily in to your backpack.

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