As our days grow dark, dank, and dismal, I like to read books about people who work outdoors in all types of weather. Maybe it just makes me feel warm and snug as I sit inside reading.
If you are interested in foraged foods or just eating, The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook takes you out into the woods with the people who make their livelihoods collecting the mushrooms that go to restaurants and stores for our eating pleasure. The woods where they find these mushrooms are deep and dark and lonely (and sometimes scary and dangerous and home to drug manufacturers). Most mushroom pickers are secretive and protective of “their” picking patches, even though most are on public lands. Langdon Cook makes a friend of one picker, Doug, who allows him to tag along and introduces him to their world.
We meet pickers, most of whom are not friendly to strangers, and some of whom are downright paranoid. They work year-round in the woods, traveling up and down the coast, as different varieties of mushrooms come into season. Over the years they have become very knowledgeable and intuitive about the growing habits of mushrooms.
The pickers sell the mushrooms to buyers. As you’d expect, there are some buyers who are less honest than others. Doug introduces Cook to one of his favorites, Jeremy Faber. Faber started as a picker and wholesaler and went on to become a buyer who now sells to upscale restaurants and grocery stores. He also sells from a booth in Pike Place Market. He is very ambitious and focused , working both to expand the market for mushrooms and wild foods, and to grow his business.
Cook works with pickers and buyers, many of whom are colorful characters you might not want moving in next door to you. We also get to tag along for visits to fancy restaurants and hear from some of the chefs who use the expensive mushrooms. This book allows us entry into a world and lifestyle most of us will not experience. I personally prefer to continue eating the mushrooms rather than searching the woods for them (I’m afraid of running into a zombie). I’m planning to seek out different varieties after reading this work.
If you’ve had a chance to read this excellent book and would like to discuss it further, you are in luck. On Monday February 24th, starting at 6 in the Northwest Room at the Main Library, you can join in a book discussion of The Mushroom Hunters lead by our northwest historians.