As a rookie recreational mushroom hunter and gather I’ve spent time in the field with friends and experts learning what I can to locate foraged wild greens, but also edible mushrooms. The draw to finding wild mushrooms is not only the fact that I can find free food that otherwise I may or may not be able to afford, but it’s local and fresh. The other huge aspect of foraging for mushrooms is the thrill of the search and to find oneself hyper focused with your ‘mushroom eyes’ turned on. In some ways it’s very meditative.
“I was most interested in foraging, that age-old knowledge passed down since antiquity that had briefly lost its lusters in the glare of whiz-bang modernity and was now being rediscovered all over again.”
– Langdon Cook, The Mushroom Hunters
When Langdon Cook’s newest book, The Mushroom Hunters was released I knew that I was going to chew into it. Let me start of this review with what this book is not. If your expecting a tips & tricks book or a field guide of sorts, then look elsewhere — there are some great resources available.
From page one I was captivated in many ways with the same hyper focus I find with myself when I’m out in the woods foraging. The book begins with a little day trip to a locale that finds the author on the edge of committing a trespassing crime. As Cook strings together his words of this torrid tale I too feel like I’m along side of him in the brush, hunched down, looking over my shoulder scanning for Johnny Law — only then do I snap back to my reality and find myself on my morning bus ride commuting into work.
The characters in this book in many ways seem to good to be true. As if they were fictional, yet the connections between the individuals creates this community of an underworld of commercial mushroom picking & buying rooted in hard work and honesty. While as an outsider, Cook unveils through the dirt that the people who work this business are not shady, but actually a bunch of hard working people who travel many miles perhaps in a day to chase the mushroom trail and deliver the goods to local markets and restaurants so that they can make a living and because they are passionate about mushrooms. At one point in the story as they are foraging a location, Cook, is referring to a picker, who in many ways took him under his wing to show him the trail and he refers to the logic of his guide that “Picking these closed patches involves a complicated algorithm that would never hold up in a court of law.”
As you weave through the storyline each chapter regales an aspect of commercial foraging from species to species, location to location, the relationships between buyer & picker and the challenges of getting wild mushrooms to the market fresh. It’s a complicated system with it’s own set of rules that can only be learned on the trail.
The conclusion of the book is very powerful with the author’s realization, that while he was an outsider originally, and from my perspective, he had found himself among the inner circle of deep connections and complicated relationships.
The Mushroom Hunter’s is an excellent read and probably one of the best I’ve read thus far in 2013. As a native born Washingtonian I might be a bit biased as many of the locations are out my back door so I can envision and relate to the conditions that Cook experienced as he trekked along. This is a great book to dive into with a warm cup of coffee or tea on a blistery wet and damp day.
To learn more about the author: