This section is from the book "Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them", by W. Hamilton Gibson. Also available from Amazon: Our Edible Toadstools And Mushrooms And How To Distinguish Them.
In the possibility of a continuance of this correspondence, consequent upon the publication of this present book, the writer, in order to forefend a presumably generous proportion of such correspondence, would here emphasize the fact that he is by no means the authority on mycology, or the science of fungi, which the attitude of his inquiring friends would imply. Indeed, his knowledge of species is quite limited. An early fascination, it is true, was humored with considerable zeal to the accumulation of a portfolio of water-colors and other drawings of various fungi - microscopic, curious, edible, and poisonous - and this collection has been subsequently added to at intervals during his regular professional work.
More than one of the originals of the accompanying colored plates have been hidden in this portfolio for over twenty years, and a larger number for ten or fifteen years, awaiting the further accumulation of that knowledge and experience, especially with reference to the edibility of species, which should warrant the utterance of the long-contemplated book.
The reader will therefore kindly remember that out of the approximate 1000 odd species of fungi entitled by their dimensions to the dignity of "toadstools or "mushrooms" - after separating the 2000 moulds, mildews, rusts, smuts, blights, yeasts, "mother," and other microscopic species - and out of the 150 recommended edible species, the present work includes only about thirty. This selection has direct reference to popular utility, only such species having been included as offer some striking or other individual peculiarity by which they may be simply identified, even without so-called scientific knowledge.
The addition of color to the present list enables its extension somewhat beyond the scope of a series printed only in black and white, as in the distinction of mere form alone an uncolored drawing of a certain species might serve to the popular eye as a common portrait of a number of allied species, possibly including a poisonous variety.
While the study of "fungi" has a host of devotees, the mysteries which involve the origin of life in this great order of the cryptogamia having had fascinating attractions to microscopical students and specialists, the study of economic mycology has been almost without a champion in the United States. Thus we have many learned treatises on the nature, structure, and habits of fungi - vegetative methods, chemical constituents, specific characters, classification - learned dissertations on the microscopical moulds, mildews, rusts and smuts, blights and ferments, to say nothing of the medico-scientific and awe-inspiring potentialities of the sensational microbe, bacterium bacillus, etc. , which are daily bringing humanity within their spell and revolutionizing the science of medicine. But among all the various mycological publications we look in vain for the great desideratum of the practical hand-book on the economic fungus - the mushroom as food! The mycologist who has been courageous enough to submit his chemical analysis and his botanical knowledge of fungi to the test of esculence in his own being is a rara avis among them; in-deed, a well-known authority states that "one may number on the fingers of his two hands the entire list of mycophagists in the United States." The absence of such works upon the mushroom and "toadstool," greatly desired for reference at an early period of my career, and little better supplied today, led to a resolve of which this volume is but an imperfect fulfilment.