Review: The Mushroom Hunters

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You know you’re a geek when you turn up for a public library program on foraging for mushrooms! It was a superb program, with a character of a presenter who knew her stuff! Seldom have I enjoyed a library program more in fact. On her handout of helpful books she listed The Mushroom Hunters. It sounded like my kind of nonfiction–and it was.

Like tulip bulbs in old Holland or various drugs today, mushrooms have a “street price,” and therefore are hunted by the sorts of guys who either a) are overly-picky chefs or b) prefer a counter-culture lifestyle.

Author Langdon Cook joined group “B” of these hunters and set off on a year of following the various mushroom harvests around the country and even up to the Yukon Territory of Canada. These are not families out for a nice hike, hoping to collect a few morels for dinner. (That’s pretty common where I live). These are the foraged mushroom “industry,” if you will. Go to a swank, pricey restaurant with a name like, “Thwap” or something equally weird and any mushrooms you get with your mortgage-payment-sized dinner will likely have passed thru these guys’ hands.

The Good

Definitely a cast of characters! Not being from hipster-Seattle, these guys were all too familiar “types” to me, so while they probably weren’t as “colorful” to me, I still got a kick out of a few of them. I also love nature study–mushrooms and all fungi are my favorites–so I like the hunting knowledge imparted as well. I’ll be paying much closer attention next time I hike or walk in a woods, that’s for sure.

I believe in protecting the environment but, like these guys, I don’t think foraging mushrooms should be illegal. The meth labs, off-roaders and partying teens do way, way more environmental damage. The foraged food companies are “forced” by demand to break the law and harvest where commercial harvesting is forbidden while timber harvests are allowed. This makes no sense at all.

Lastly, I’d love to go up to that Boyne City, Michigan, Morrel Festival! Road trip, anyone?

The Bad

While I get it–the book was about, duh!, the actual Hunters, I would have liked to have learned more about the chefs and the foodie aspects of the culture. The guys in this book are mostly interested in earning a living.

I think the environmentalists have gone too far in outlawing mushroom harvesting, or miring it in all kinds of permits. If it is easier to harvest trees that take years to re-grow than to harvest mushrooms, there’s a problem.

Rating

4 stars. Overuse of “helm” and “task” as verbs and some over-the-top phrases (chock-a-block, etc). But these are personal pet peeves of mine and not really a flaw. Cook is an excellent storyteller.

Langdon Cook’s new book, Upstreaming: Searching for Wild Salmon From River to Table comes out next month. I’m sure I will be reading it–and enjoying it! I liked the way he tells a a story. He also offers classes in foraging and in cooking foraged foods–you can view them all on his website here..

 

 

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