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The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345536258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345536259
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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

Langdon Cook

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.


Images by Author Langdon Cook

Blond morels for sale in Sisters, Oregon.

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Doug and Jeff scouting chanterelles on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.
Doug and Jeff scouting chanterelles on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

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A picker's payday at matsutake camp, Crescent Lake, Oregon.
A picker's payday at matsutake camp, Crescent Lake, Oregon.

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From Booklist

With the arrival of spring, North America’s woodlands begin to echo with the footfalls of stealthy and secretive hunters who aren’t after any animal. They are on the prowl for fungi springing from the awakening forest floor. Morel hunters eventually give way to other adepts foraging for later-arriving porcini and chanterelles. These hardy souls then meet up with even more shadowy types, dealers and middlemen, furtive guardians of mushroom supply and demand, who resell their booty to restaurants, greenmarkets, and the export trade. This gray market runs on cash only, and serious players in this secretive society are frequently armed. All this is in service of the fifth taste, umami, a prime flavor that mushrooms supply in such abundance that chefs willingly pay astronomical prices to please themselves and well-heeled guests. Cook’s sketches of these unique and idiosyncratic characters aren’t always wholly sympathetic, but he makes every one of them real. --Mark Knoblauch

More About the Author

I write about people who live at the intersection of food and nature. This gives me a chance to follow multiple threads that intrigue me: wild foods, foraging, natural history, environmental politics, outdoor sports, adventure travel, etc. My wife thinks it's all a racket--an excuse to bushwhack around the woods by day and put away obscene amounts of rich food and wine by night. I can't exactly argue with that view.

Really, though, my interest lies in the characters who feel equally at home in both field and kitchen. In my first book, "Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager," I go spearfishing for lingcod with a modern hunter-gatherer/English PhD; I hunt morel mushrooms with an Italian-American EPA administrator; and jig for squid on a city pier jammed with immigrants hooting and hollering in a dozen different tongues. Bottom line: Foraging is fun, reconnecting us to both the landscape and our fellow humans. Plus, a really good meal awaits. Each chapter concludes with a recipe.

My new book, "The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America," is about the men and women--many of them immigrants from war-torn countries, migrant workers, or refugees from the Old Economy--who bring wild mushrooms to market. To write the book, I embedded myself in the itinerant subculture of wild mushroom harvesters, a mostly hidden confederacy of treasure-seekers that follows the "mushroom trail" year-round, picking and selling the fungi that land on exclusive restaurant plates around the country. The book takes place over the course of several mushroom seasons and follows the triumphs and failures of a few characters, including an ex-logger trying to pay his bills and stay out of trouble; a restaurant cook turned mushroom broker trying to build a business; and a celebrated chef who picks wild mushrooms on the side to keep in touch with the land. "The Mushroom Hunters" was awarded a 2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award.

What else? I've worked as a reporter, editor, and writer my entire career, for both Old and New Media. I took the plunge into full-time writing after a year spent living in a cabin off the grid with my wife and son. (I emerged from the woods with a book idea and a new daughter.) I live in Seattle with my family, where I teach foraging and cooking classes, write a regular column for Seattle Magazine, and contribute articles and essays to a variety of other print/web media.

Customer Reviews

This book is well written and full of fun.
Bror Erickson
Langdon Cook is a wonderful storyteller that takes you on a journey of the picker, the broker and the restaurant chef.
B. E. Hole
I got something different than I expected and likely of interest to a much larger audience.
Richard Staats

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To most people, mushrooms are still those bland, greying semicircles found on top of a pizza or in a bowl of pasta. But to anyone who has tasted a sautéed wild morel or chanterelle or lobster mushroom, or had fresh truffle shaved over their eggs or fettuccini, mushrooms can be the most amazing, sublime, delicious flavors to be found on Earth. Why this is the case is still a puzzle- what would be the evolutionary advantage for mushrooms to be so attractive to the human palate?- but they are. Mushrooms have, in recent years, changed from being a curiosity collected in this country by eccentrics and foreigners, into one of the most sought after delicacies presented in high end restaurants by top chefs. That kind of demand means money, and where there's money, there's bound to be both a legal, and an illegal trade- which leads us into the story at the center of this book.

Author Langdon Cook describes himself as an avid amateur forager and mushroom hunter. As such, he's a member of a rapidly growing group in this country. More and more Americans head into the woods every year looking for wild berries, tasty greens, and exotic mushrooms. But along with the amateurs there are also a number of professional mushroom hunters in search of exotic varieties, some of which can fetch $20/pound or more. Those hunters are part of a complex network of hunters, buyers, wholesalers, retailers and finally chefs willing to pay for an exotic mushroom. Cook's pursuit of that chain led him into the world of legal and not-so-legal mushroom hunters and traders, and in particular to a buyer named Jeremy Faber through whom he meets a number of hunters, both legal and illegal.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Richard Staats VINE VOICE on August 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I loved this book!

My kids and I were mushroom hunters. We went out with the local Yahoo group, and it was a lot of fun. We also got to eat the mushrooms! Yeah! When I saw the Langdon Cook book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, it was a must read just for family history alone.

I got something different than I expected and likely of interest to a much larger audience.

Mr. Cook spins a very exciting yarn, and the language he uses is descriptive and rhythmic, "even outdoors, the autumn aroma hangs in the air like a beguiling cloud, hinting at marvelous rewards to come." The entire book is like that.

The book starts off by describing the underground culture of "outlaw" mushroom hunters. The trick is that, while it is not illegal to raise or harvest most mushrooms, it is illegal to hunt mushrooms in some Federal enclaves. Of course, it you want to bag several hundred pounds of mushrooms then that is exactly where you need to go.

Mr. Cook is able to hook up with a number of these underground hunters, and his adventures take place in the Pacific Northwest amongst the peaks of the Washington state mountains. All kinds of folk are underground mushroom hunters, but most have led a fairly exciting life. Some like Doug had near death experiences and brushes with hard drugs. Others like Farber and Choi were college drop outs that loved the forests of the Northwest and just wanted to do something that allowed them to work outdoors in the forests.

The author divides the mushroom hunters into "recreationals" and "professionals.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Since I have spent my entire life living part of the year here in the California Sierras and half the year on an island near Seattle I was so excited to get this book.

Aside from the fact I know so many of the nook and cranny places along the Washington coast and the entire western area from Port Angeles down to Sandy Shores and into Oregon south of Tillamook on eastward to Idaho it was like a lovely treat being reminded of all the haunts we have been to.

What I had NO idea about was the entire underground mushroom society that existed. Had never paid much attention when we would see folks on remote mountain roads picking mushrooms. Sure never thought they might be picking to make money. And I had NO idea so many pickers were from south east Asia. Or how the buyer grades mushrooms and how small white worms can appear in them if they get warm. Such interesting information.

The weather conditions the author writes about are spot on. Kept hoping he would at least mention a favorite mushroom of mine, the Shaggy Mane which is a mushroom you pick and cook within a couple hours. Guess that is one reason he didn't talk about it because they are not fit for selling. Had my first ones as a child on Vashon Island near a favorite hiking area. My Dad could literally smell them a block away.

Come fall and then next spring I will probably notice pickers I never paid any attention to when day hiking or backpacking here in the Sierras and up around Crescent City and all coastal areas to the South.

This is a great book!
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