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

Overview

In the dark corners of America’s forests grow culinary treasures. Chefs pay top dollar to showcase these elusive and beguiling ingredients on their menus. Whether dressing up a filet mignon with smoky morels or shaving luxurious white truffles over pasta, the most elegant restaurants across the country now feature an abundance of wild mushrooms.

The mushroom hunters, by contrast, are a rough lot. They live in the wilderness and move with the seasons. Motivated by Gold Rush ...

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Overview

In the dark corners of America’s forests grow culinary treasures. Chefs pay top dollar to showcase these elusive and beguiling ingredients on their menus. Whether dressing up a filet mignon with smoky morels or shaving luxurious white truffles over pasta, the most elegant restaurants across the country now feature an abundance of wild mushrooms.

The mushroom hunters, by contrast, are a rough lot. They live in the wilderness and move with the seasons. Motivated by Gold Rush desires, they haul improbable quantities of fungi from the woods for cash. Langdon Cook embeds himself in this shadowy subculture, reporting from both rural fringes and big-city eateries with the flair of a novelist, uncovering along the way what might be the last gasp of frontier-style capitalism.

Meet Doug, an ex-logger and crabber — now an itinerant mushroom picker trying to pay his bills and stay out of trouble; Jeremy, a former cook turned wild-food entrepreneur, crisscrossing the continent to build a business amid cutthroat competition; their friend Matt, an up-and-coming chef whose kitchen alchemy is turning heads; and the woman who inspires them all.

Rich with the science and lore of edible fungi — from seductive chanterelles to exotic porcini — The Mushroom Hunters is equal parts gonzo travelogue and culinary history lesson, a rollicking, character-driven tour through a world that is by turns secretive, dangerous, and tragically American.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Intrepid and inspired, Seattle-based author Cook (Fat of the Land) follows his passion for porcini, chanterelles, and black trumpets into remote forests, from the Pacific Northwest to Colorado, where mild fungi fruit in abundance and are hunted in secret and traded like contraband. The mushroom hunters he joins are like the gold prospectors of the Wild West: secretive men with sharp survival skills, who intimately know the terrain and can endure brutal days bushwhacking for an itinerant hand-to-mouth existence. The hunters pick different species, depending on the season—from hedgehogs (which might go for per pound) to king bolete and matsutake—amassing pounds of mushrooms to sell. The author trails veteran harvester Doug Glen Carnell through the coastal Olympic Peninsula. A favorite buyer is Jeremy Faber, owner of Foraged and Found Edibles, who has connections with the fancy restaurants in Seattle and New York; he inspects the day’s hauls and tallies the prices. The hunters venture into coastal California in winter, picking yellow feet, among others; they even come upon a cornucopia of “burn morels,” which emerge after forest fires. Cook amply, knowledgeably incorporates debates about sustainability and legality, and offers recipes. Agent: Lisa Grubka, Fletcher & Co. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Mushroom Hunters
 
“If you’ve never thought of using the words ‘mushroom’ and ‘adventure’ in the same sentence, this gripping book will force you to reconsider.”—Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist
 
“With superb detail and intrepid research, Langdon Cook leads a fascinating trek deep into the mysterious world of mushroom hunting, blending intriguing natural history and quirky characters with insights into this murky, sometimes dangerous business. This is riveting stuff for food lovers.”—Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry
 
The Mushroom Hunters is one of those very infrequent and wonderful books that change your way of looking at something you think you don’t care about. Who knew the humble mushroom could be shot through with suspense? The way Langdon Cook writes about these delicious fungi—the excitement in the story of their capture; the flair of the telling—has me convinced I’d go pretty far out on the wire myself to get some.”—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
 
“A beautifully written portrait of the people who collect and distribute wild mushrooms, The Mushroom Hunters is food and nature writing at its finest. Langdon Cook's descriptions are so visceral you can smell the mushrooms, the forests, the rain on every page. This is a terrific book.”—Eugenia Bone, author of Mycophilia
 
“In these pages, you’ll meet America’s last nomads in all their ragamuffin glory. Langdon Cook brings these individuals to life with the eyes, ears, and heart of a first-rate novelist.”—Lawrence Millman, author of Last Places
 
“The Mushroom Hunters is like the forest itself—gems are hidden throughout. Cook captures the surreal and deeply flavorful world of North America’s wild fungi, the subculture that seeks them, and the thrill of the treasure hunt.”—Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees
Library Journal
09/01/2013
Cook (columnist, Seattle magazine; Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager) takes readers into a world of fascinating contrasts and characters as he reveals how commercially prized wild mushrooms, e.g., morels, chanterelles, trumpets, and matsutake, are hunted, bought, sold, and prepared. Immersing himself in the wild mushroom subculture of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states, Cook tells the story of an underground economy supported by pickers (both marginalized, often itinerant pickers and local, recreational pickers), best-selling cookbook writers, society chefs (some names are fictionalized), and the urban restaurant scene, from Seattle to New York. Along the way, readers learn about mushroom taxonomy, discover delicious recipes, come to understand the living conditions of immigrant pickers, and stand in line in a Montana airport with buyers shipping hundreds of pounds of wild mushrooms to markets and restaurants in New York. VERDICT Not simply about mushrooms, this book examines human behavior, economics, food, society, and nature. In the end, readers will have learned a great deal about U.S. economic and social structures—all while being entertained and enlightened by stories of gastronomy and mushrooms. Highly recommended.—Linda Loos Scarth, Cedar Rapids, IA
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager (2009) finds a rich subculture in mushroom hunters. Mushrooms: one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods, up there with beets and anchovies. For Cook, mushrooms fall firmly in his love-it category. He opens with a declaration: "My obsession with fungi arrived like a sickness," he writes. "It consumed me." With that obsession driving, the author went out to find not just wild mushrooms, but the people who venture into forests and other secluded areas to find them. He met up with Doug, a hunter and self-proclaimed redneck with bad teeth, who acted as Cook's guide to the mushroom-hunters subculture. With guidance from Doug, Cook rambled on from one hunting excursion to the next, all around the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, he met a full array of quirky, colorful characters--bearded mountain men, Laotian immigrants, and Jeremy Faber, whose company supplies foraged foods to high-end restaurateurs--but none of them are as well fleshed out as Doug. Overall, there's not much narrative pull behind the book; Cook mostly seems to drift from one hunt to the next with little focus, and closing the story with the unexpected death of Faber's former girlfriend feels tacked-on. Further, the author whipsaws between language so terse it reads like bad Hemingway ("The temperature was dropping. Soon it would snow in the high country. Som had a lot to think about") and cringe-worthy purple prose--e.g., "Enveloping you like a cloud is the aroma and taste of a night of lovemaking -- an earthy musk, a taste of sweetness and of sweat, a complexity that would make a wine snob blush." An unfocused backwoods ramble among people who forage for a living.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781491518939
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 4/8/2014
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 1,319,750
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Langdon Cook is the author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager. His writing has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and online journals. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.
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