July 28, 2013
The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook
In the spring, I take to the woods, in search of that elusive morel. I dream about it all year; rolled in flour and then pan fried in butter, it has got to be one of the best foods out there. And then I read this book, got insanely jealous of how easy it appears to be to find mushrooms out in the Northwest and lamented over the fact that several days of searching only yields a handful of mushrooms for me usually. Gee thanks Mr. Cook.
In actuality though, this book is not about the mushrooms themselves so much as it is about the pickers of mushrooms. And even then it isn't so much about the recreational pickers like myself (if I can even claim to be that) but more the commercial pickers, and the buyers that make up the business. Going undercover of sorts, Cook interacts with all types of pickers and a buyer who runs a business around foraged food, supplying several high end restaurants with the ingredients. He joins them on picks and travels through the different seasons looking for different types. He also learns a bit about the business and the commercial prices for mushrooms.
Since this book is mostly about the pickers and the one buyer he hangs out with, they are the main focus and the human interaction that he has. While they were all interesting I'm still not sure how I feel about the illegal picking they sometimes do and the areas of law that they make grey in regards to picking. While none of them seem particularly dangerous (although a few walk the line) it seems a much rougher endeavor than I would have thought. In describing himself Cook shows his love of food and that he isn't afraid of hard work. But he doesn't really focus on himself as much as the other people in the book.
What I really had trouble with was the pace. I could easily set this book down and leave it for awhile as nothing really grabbed my attention. There were interesting facts scattered here and there but it wasn't continual. And some of the descriptions were hard to understand. I'm still not sure I understand the grading system of the mushrooms or why they are called buttons. A little more description in that regard would have been welcome. I also thought the book jumped around a lot and I'd just be getting into a story when he would be off doing something else with someone else. The best part of the book was the descriptions of the mushrooms, what they looked like, and what dishes they were good in. I really wish he had included some recipes!
I can't say this would be a book I'd go back to time and time again. It was worth it for one read if you're interested in the type of people who hunt mushrooms and the commercial business of selling the fungi.
The Mushroom Hunters