Saturday, September 26, 2009

  I am a River Cottage convert, somewhere in the dim and distant past I vaguely remember sneering dismissively at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but those times are gone. I think it’s the get your hands dirty approach which won me over in the end - I really don’t want to own a pig, much less kill one, but should the situation arise and I prove equal to it, I think it would be only right to take the nose to tail attitude of waste not want not. I truly do enjoy making my own bread and preserves (although the mincemeat’s looking a bit disappointing at the moment) partly because people who don’t are fooled into thinking I’m doing something impressive, mostly because it’s deeply satisfying at some very basic level to produce this stuff.

  I discovered The River Cottage handbooks when I was given ‘Preserves’, and absolutely loved the Bread Book when it came out, so much so that I took it on holiday with me – but that’s another story. After that it was a foregone conclusion that I should have the full set, and at last I do after picking up a pristine second hand copy of handbook No1 - ‘Mushrooms’ by John Wright.

  Now is definitely the time to admit that I’m not that keen on mushrooms, I like the ordinary available in every supermarket safe kind, but can happily avoid the more exotic adventurous possibly killer variety. They are the wild food I am least likely to forage for, in truth if I can’t say with confidence that it’s a field mushroom I wouldn’t touch it, and all of this is why ‘Mushrooms’ was the last book to join my collection. Indeed if I hadn’t seen it second hand I still wouldn’t have it which would have been a huge loss because it’s a wonderful book.

  Even ignoring the excellent recipes at the back, the useful advice on fungi hunting and the law, or the useful guides to different methods of identification, and perhaps overlooking the excellent colour photos with guides to habitat, season, and distinguishing features this would be a wonderful book. It’s certainly a useful size and weight to slip into a jacket pocket, and seems to have all the necessary information to make it an excellent field guide, I am actually almost tempted to try mushroom hunting now, but the best thing, the very best thing about this book is the text.

  I was absolutely entranced by John Wright’s style and humour, so much so that this has become bedside reading. The tone is slightly deadpan, but not distractingly so. It’s fair to say there are bits which are intentionally humorous, but underlying that is a deep respect for how dangerous inedible mushrooms can be - In the section on poisonous fungi there are dire warnings about what will happen if you eat one, and exactly why it works on your system the way it does. I’m inclined to like any book which encourages me to look more closely at what’s growing around me, it’s a definite bonus that it could conceivably be a life saver.

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