By Christopher Nyerges
I have long sought out wild mushrooms in backyards and canyons throughout Northeast Los Angeles. My finds in Highland Park and Eagle Rock include morels, puffballs and inky caps.
I have also found a great new book for anyone else interested in finding wild mushrooms.
The book is “Wild Edible Mushrooms of California: A Field Guide” by Tom Cervenka. It’s an excellent book for a beginner but it will also make an expert smile.
I say this as someone whose first love was mycology, the study of mushrooms. My mushroom enthusiasm, which endures to this day, began while I was still in high school, even before I began my studies of botany and ethnobotany.
Mycology was not easy, in part, because mushrooms are not always present. They appear and just as quickly they are gone, decomposed and disappeared. But my fascination was constant, fed by adventure after adventure seeking these elusive forest creatures. I joined the Los Angeles Mycological Society where I met experts and went on field trips, learning directly from pros like William Breen, Bob Tally, Florence Nishida and others.
And I studied books – all I could find – as the second best way to learn after actually learning in the field.
I have probably acquired over the years every significant book on mycology. I have not kept them all, ultimately finding some to be incomplete, too shallow for my interest, or focused on distant geographical areas. Still, I eagerly examine each new book that comes out, looking for new clues and insights to help me master this very difficult field.
Cervenka’s “Wild Edible Mushrooms of California: A Field Guide” is a keeper. It is well organized, starting with an enticing explanation of the world of mycology and the different sorts of fungi that the student will encounter.
Then, it focuses on 70 carefully selected species that are edible and most likely to be found in California, (including every wild mushroom I commonly use). Cervenka gives the reader 170 photos of the mushrooms he has selected, along with photos of possible look-alikes. He warns readers frequently to be sure to carefully read the text – and not rely solely on photos – because pictures alone cannot capture the very slight variations that can exist within species.
The best part – something I’ve never seen before in a book like this – is Cervenka’s list of the parks and forests in California where you can and cannot collect wild mushrooms. He also lists several on-line resources for further study.
This is an exceptional book, reasonably priced, available from northernbushcraft.com.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
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