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.
Experiences similar to this one are frequent in the career of every mycophagist, and serve to illustrate the pity and solicitude which he awakens among his fellow-mortals, as well as to emphasize the prevalent superstitions regarding the comparative virtues of the mushroom and toadstool - a prejudice which, by-the-way, in the absence of available popular literature on the subject, and the actual dangers which encompass their popular distinction, is a most beneficent public safeguard.
The mushroom which "he can tell" is generally the Agaricus campestris, or one of its several varieties; and knowing this alone, and tempted by no other, this sort of village oracle escapes the fate which often awaits another class, who are not thus conservative, and who extend their definition of mushroom (a word supposed to be synonymous with "edible "), and this mainly through the indorsement of certain so-called infallible tests handed down to them from their forefathers, and by which the esculent varieties may be distinguished from the poisonous. By these so-called "tests" or "proofs" the identification of certain species is gradually acquired. The rural fungus epicure now "knows them by sight," or perhaps has received his information second-hand, and makes his selection without hesitation, with what success may be judged from the incident in my own experience already noted - one which, knowing as I did the frequency and confidence with which my country friend sampled the fungi at his table, filled me with consternation and anxiety for his future.
"How, then, shall we distinguish a mushroom from a toadstool?"
There is no way of distinguishing them, for they are the same.
"How, then, shall we know a poisonous toadstool from a harmless one?" the reader hopelessly exclaims.
This discrimination is by no means as difficult as is popularly supposed, but in the first place, the student must entirely rid himself of all preconceived notions and traditions, such as the following almost world-wide "tests," many of which are easily demonstrated to be worse than worthless, and have doubtless frequently led to an untimely funeral. Some of these are merely local, and in widely separated districts are supplanted by others equally arbitrary and absurd, while many of them are as old as history.