An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: In your neighborhood grocery store sits a bin of nondescript white mushrooms, unthreatening and clearly-of-this-planet fungi that might have been plucked from the pages of Beatrix Potter tale. But for accomplished forager and outdoorsman Langdon Cook (Fat of the Land), the story goes much deeper. He took a long walk in the woods and returned with The Mushroom Hunters, a collection of delightful stories of a mycelial underground filled with eccentrics and obsessives who at first seem strange (and maybe even unsettling), but grow more charming by the page. This book is a ton of fun--equal parts adventure, natural history, and gastronomy. Naturalists (who aren’t necessarily foodies) will learn about some of the more exotic fungi and their uses on the table, while foodies (who might not be naturalists) will find the loamy details of the mushroom trail enlightening. Above all, The Mushroom Hunters will make you hungry. --Jon Foro
Author Langdon Cook on The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America
The idea for The Mushroom Hunters came to me while harvesting morel mushrooms in July, 2007, during an episode that’s briefly recounted in my first book, Fat of the Land. I was in the North Cascades of Washington State near the Canadian border, in one of the last truly wild regions of the Lower 48, home to wolves and grizzlies. A friend and I heard strange voices in the woods. Moments later we came face-to-face with two men, both wearing impossibly large packs filled with morels, maybe eighty pounds apiece. Unlike us, these men were picking mushrooms to sell, spending months in the bush working in abject conditions that would test the meddle of anyone. I had heard that commercial mushroom pickers often packed guns into the woods and guarded patches with territorial vigor. They stared at us and we stared at them. Nothing was said. Then, just like that, they turned on their heels and disappeared back into the timber. It was like a Bigfoot sighting.
After that I was determined to infiltrate the commercial wild mushroom trade, a scrappy, mostly hidden and itinerant enterprise that follows the mushroom flushes year-round, with echoes of Wild West frontier-style capitalism and Gold Rush days gone by. I was amazed that no one had ever written a book-length account of it, and was fortunate to meet a number of pickers and buyers who allowed me into their world. Over the next few years I traveled from my home in Seattle as far north as Yukon Territory and, come winter, camped with pickers on the Lost Coast of California. I went to Oregon and British Columbia, to Michigan, Montana, Colorado, and New York City, among other places, to follow the invisible food chain from patch to plate. I got on “the mushroom trail” and embedded myself in a subculture that is, for better or worse, indelibly American.
The Mushroom Hunters weaves together food, natural history, and outdoor adventure. It’s the result of thousands of hours spent with pickers, buyers, and chefs; hundreds of hours of taped interviews; and my own compulsion to work this first-hand material into a narrative that readers can appreciate, whether or not they’ve ever tasted a wild mushroom or even taken a walk in the woods.