Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms

Color Plates & Quotations

Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them by W. Hamilton Gibson (of Washington, Connecticut) was published in 1895 by Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London. It is written in a style that today can only be considered quaint, but it is very readable and quite enjoyable. In his typical style, I especially liked the description of "fungus-eaters": ...while in America this particular sort of specialist is more generally an isolated "crank" who is compelled to "flock alone", contemplated with a certain awe by his less venturesome fellows, and otherwise variously considered, either with envy of his experience and scientific knowledge, or more probably as an irresponsible, who continually tempts Providence in his foolhardy experiments with poison.

The color plates illustrating the book are by the author. I find them pleasing, even though they are not always "mycologically" correct. The thirty color plates from the book are reproduced below. The names of the species in the titles are the names used in the book. Many of the names have changed over the last century and Mr. Gibson may have had a broader sense of the genus Agaricus than was common even in his day (e.g. he calls Pleurotus ostreatus, Agaricus ostreatus, the original Friesian name). When different, I also list the currently accepted name for each species.

All of the paragraphs in italics are quotes from the book.

You can download a PDF of the entire book (22MB).

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Title Page

TITLE PAGE

A Selection of Thirty Native Food Varieties, Easily Recognizable by their Marked Individualities, with Simple Rules for the Identification of Poisonous Species

Plate I

Plate I: THE DEADLY "AMANITA"

It is unclear what species the author is trying to illustrate here. The book talks about the deadly Amanita verna (as A. vernus), but that is a white mushroom. Amanita phalloides is mentioned, but it does not usually have veil remnants on the cap like those of the illustration. There is also a question about whether the true A. phalloides existed in the United States at the time the book was written. This may be a "collective" species, since the author warns that it is advisable to avoid all mushrooms with a cup-like volva. Note the skull in the cup on the right in the illustration.

Plate IV

Plate IV: AMANITA MUSCARIA
(Poisonous)

Of course every mushroom book must illustrate the Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria.

This, one of the most strikingly beautiful of our toadstools...can hardly be unfamiliar to even the least observant country walker....The consideration of this species is of the utmost importance, as its beauty is but an alluring mask, which has enticed many to their destruction.

Plate V

Plate V: AGARICUS CAMPESTRIS

The Champignon is a popular edible in many parts of the world.

Perhaps the one species which enjoys the widest range of popular confidence as the "mushroom" in the lay mind, as distinguished from "toadstool", is the Agaricus campestris, known as the "meadow mushroom".

Plate VII

Plate VII: AGARICUS GAMBOSUS

Current name: Calocybe gambosa

Another very common example of mushroom in its season of early spring is the Agaricus gambosus, or St. George's mushroom, as it is popularly styled in Great Britain, from its usual appearance about the time of St. George's Day, April 23d.

Plate VIII

Plate VIII: MARASMIUS OREADES

The true Fairy-ring Champignon...is common on lawns and close-cropped pastures, where it it usually seen growing in rings more less broken, and often several feet in diameter, or in disconnected arcs, the vegetation extending outward year by year. This mushroom is held in great esteem, and frequently grows in such profusion that bushels may be gathered in a small area.

Plate IX

Plate IX: POISONOUS CHAMPIGNONS
Marasmius urens, M. peronatus

I do not know what these mushrooms are, but it is clear from the author's description that they are not Marasmii, or even white spored!

Plate X

Plate X: AGARICUS PROCERUS

Current name: Macrolepiota procera (Parasol)

One of the most readily recognized of our wild mushrooms is the pasture or parasol Agaric...it is by many considered the choicest of all mushrooms, and is indeed a delicious morsel when quickly broiled over coals, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and butter melted in the gills, and served hot on buttered toast.

Plate XI

Plate XI: RUSSULA VIRESCENS

In an auspicious season and in a congenial habitat -- usually an open wood with scant undergrowth and preferably racked clean of dead leaves -- the green Russula is often abundant. Familiarity even with this one species will often afford a sufficiency of fungus food during its season....A lady amateur mycophagist of the writer's acquaintance...is especially fond of the green Russula...for even in their natural state, as she discriminatingly says, they are "as sweet as chestnuts".

Plate XII

Plate XII: EDIBLE RUSSULAE
Russula heterophylla, R. alutacea, R. lepida

Various methods prevail in the culinary preparation of the Russula...but broiling is perhaps the most simple and generally satisfactory. Having thoroughly cleaned the top, or, if desired, peeled the cuticle, place the mushrooms on a gridiron over a hot fire, gills downward, for a few moments, sufficient to allow them to be heated through without scorching. Then reverse them and repeat the process, melting a small piece of butter in the gills and salting and peppering to taste; serve hot on toast or in the platter with roast beef or fowl.

Plate XIII

Plate XIII: RUSSULA EMETICA
(Poisonous)

The Russula emetica, as its name implies, is at war with luxurious gastronomy, but its distinction from the harmless varieties is quite simple. Its frequent general similarity to R. lepida and R. alutacea is such that the amateur should hardly rely upon the botanical characters alone. There is but one safe, as it is a simple, rule for him: He should taste every specimen of his Russula of whatever kind before venturing upon its use as food. All of the sweet a palatable Russulae are esculent. When he chances upon the R. emetica he will be aware of its important demoralizing resources in the peppery-hot tingle of his tongue, which, if not instantly perceived, will within the space of a minute assert itself distinctly.

Plate XIV

Plate XIV: AGARICUS OSTREATUS

Current name: Pleurotus ostreatus

What a mass of nutritious food do we occasionally pass in innocence or spurn with our foot upon the old stump or fallen log in the woods! -- a neglected feast, indeed, if the specialists on edible fungi are to be believed; a feast, in truth, for a big family, if we chance upon even an average cluster of the "vegetable oyster".

Plate XV

Plate XV: AGARICUS ULMARIUS

Current name: Hypsizygus ulmarius or Hypsizygus tessulatus

This edible species of mushroom...is the Agaricus ulmarius. While much difference of opinion prevails regarding the appetizing qualities of this mushroom or its right to a place among the esculents, this varying individual judgement has doubtless often had direct reference to the character of the particular specimen chosen for trial....Certain it is that in its young and tender condition only is it fit for food, as it becomes progressively tough in consistency towards maturity.

Plate XVI

Plate XVI: COPRINUS COMATUS

A casual observer happening upon a cluster of the young mushrooms might imagine that he beheld a convention of goose eggs standing on end in the grass, their summits spotted with brown....If one of them is examined, it is seen to be a curious short-stemmed mushroom which never fully expands, perhaps five inches high, and whose surface is curiously decorated with shaggy patches. In its early stages it is white and singularly egglike, but later becomes brownish, its curved shaggy points finally changing to almost black. The concealed gills are crowded and of equal length, at first creamy white, but gradually changing through a whole gamut of pinks, sepias, and browns until they become black, at which time the whole substance of the cap melts on its elongated stalk -- deliquesces into an unsightly inky paste, which besmears the grass and ultimately leaves only the bare white stem standing in its midst.

Plate XVII

Plate XVII: COPRINUS ATRAMENTARIUS

The inky Agaric is frequent about barn-yards, gardens, and old stumps in the woods, and usually grows in such crowded masses that the central individuals are compressed into hexagonal shape.

Plate XVIII

Plate XVIII: LACTARIUS DELICIOSUS

...If this exudation is orange or deep yellow in hue, gradually turning greenish on exposure, the identification is complete, and we have the orange-milk, L. deliciosus, of which an authority says, "It really deserves its name, being the most delicious mushroom known".

Plate XIX

Plate XIX: CANTHARELLUS CIBARIUS

...Any specimen having these features, and which possesses in addition a fine, rich yellow color, is the C. cibarius of our plate, the esculent morsel so highly prized by epicures on the Continent, where to many -- perhaps somewhat indiscriminating -- gastronomists it forms one of the greatest delicacies among the entire list of edible fungi.

Plate XX

Plate XX: BOLETUS EDULIS

...Any Boletus answering this description may be eaten without fear, assuming, of course, that its substance is free from any taint of dissolution and traces of insect contamination. Both of these conditions are apt to prevail in the mature specimens, and all Boleti are more safely employed for food in the young crisp stage, or at least before their full expansion. In their maturity, moreover, they often prove too mucilaginous in consistency to be pleasant to the average partaker, especially the novice.

Plate XXI

Plate XXI: BOLETUS SCABER

Current name: Leccinum scabrum

Epicures fail to agree as to the esculent qualities of the mushroom. It is certainly inferior to the edulis.

Plate XXII

Plate XXII: BOLETUS SUBTOMENTOSUS,
B. CHRYSENTERON

The stem [of B. subtomentosus] is stout, unequal, firm, yellowish, and more or less ribbed, occasionally tinted, minutely dotted, or faintly striped with the color of the cap. The taste of the flesh is sweet and agreeable. Palmer compares it to the flavor of walnuts.
Plate XXIII

Plate XXIII: STOBILOMYCES STROBILACEUS

Current name: Strobilomyces floccopus

This very striking mushroom is found in the woods, especially under evergreens. It frequently attains a diameter of four inches. Its spores are a deep brown, and a specimen selected at the stage when the under surface is flat will yield a most beautiful spore print if laid upon white paper and protected from the atmosphere.

Plate XXIV

Plate XXIV: SUSPICIOUS BOLETI
Boletus alveolatus, B. felleus

Current names: Boletus frostii, Tylopilus felleus

In Plate 34 are shown two examples of the Boleti which have commonly been accounted poisonous and, in the absence of absolutely satisfactory assurance to the contrary, it is safer from our present point of view to consider them still as suspicious and to give them a wide berth.

Plate XXV

Plate XXV: FISTULINA HEPATICA

It is a highly prized article of diet on the Continent where the arts of the chef are ingeniously employed in endless recipes for its savory preparation, often, it would seem, with the main object of obliterating as far as possible all trace of the delicate flavor of the mushroom per se.

Plate XXVI

Plate XXVI: POLYPORUS SULPHUREUS

Current name: Laetiporus sulphureus

The brilliancy of its sulphur-yellow and orange-salmon colors, in association with its large size, renders it a most conspicuous object, especially from it habit of growing in dense clusters, often a number of such clusters in close contiguity upon a decaying stump or prostrate log, frequently so numerous and so crowded as to completely conceal the bark beneath.

Plate XXVII

Plate XXVII: HYDNUM REPANDUM

Its sweet but slightly pungent or peppery taste when raw disappears in cooking. It is quite frequent in our woods, and if fresh and free from insects may be eaten without the slightest hesitation. It is a species highly favored on the Continent, where the surplus yield is habitually dried and kept for winter use.

Plate XXVIII

Plate XXVIII: HYDNUM CAPUT-MEDUSAE

Current name: Hericium coralloides

The soft spines entirely cover the rounded branching protuberances of the fungus. The upper teeth are short and form a sort of "crown", falling from which the more and more elongated spines are firmly pendent beneath, somewhat suggesting as many head of tiny skye-terriers in crowded convocation -- or a tiny bleached "hedgehog", if you choose.

Plate XXX

Plate XXX: CLAVARIA FORMOSA

Current name: Ramaria formosa

The true R. formosa has pink branches with yellow tips, the reverse of what is shown in this plate. It is thought to cause GI distress in many people.

Plate XXXII

Plate XXXII: MORCHELLA ESCULENTA

Description is hardly necessary with its portrait before us. No other fungus at all resembles it except those of the same genus, and inasmuch as they are all edible, we may safely add to our bill of fare any fungus which resembles our illustration. The Morel has long been considered as one of the rarest of delicacies, always at a fancy premium in the markets -- a bon-mot for the rich, a prize for the peasant.

Plate XXXIII

Plate XXXIII: HELVELLA CRISPA

One of the most strikingly individual of all the mushrooms, and one which could not possibly be confounded with any other kind....With this mere portrait as our guide, we might safely classify our specimen -- at least, as to its genus; and inasmuch as none of the group is poisonous, and all are edible with varying degrees of esculence, we can make no mistake even in our ventures as amateur mycophagists.

Plate XXXIV

Plate XXXIV: A GROUP OF PUFF-BALLS
Lycoperdon giganteum, L. gemmatum, L. saccatum

A detailed discrimination of the Puff-balls is hardly necessary here...it is perfectly safe to say that if there is one fungus more than another with which the populace is specifically familiar it is the Puff-ball.

Plate XXXVII

Plate XXXVII: SPORE PRINT OF AMANITA MUSCARIUS

Here the author uses the wrong ending: it is Agaricus muscarius, but Amanita muscaria.