The Mushroom Hunters (On the Trail of an Underground America) by Langdon Cook
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In the tradition of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, and Mark Kurlansky’s Cod—a renowned culinary adventurer goes into the woods with the iconoclasts and outlaws who seek the world’s most coveted ingredient . . . and one of nature’s last truly wild foods: the uncultivated, uncontrollable mushroom.
Within 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; and 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.
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