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The Mushroom Hunters

The Mushroom Hunters – On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook, explores a foraging culture the extent of which I had never imagined. The massive extraction on tasty edibles from the woods of the mountain west is driven by popularity of local foods in so many restaurants. The morels in that sauce have to come from somewhere.

The book introduces us to pickers and buyers and gives us an insider’s view of mushroom camps that are more like temporary villages, complete with competing buyers who set up their buying tables right in the camps. Pickers pull out dozens of pounds of mushrooms. Some of these pickers pull more mushrooms out of the woods in a day than I’ve picked in local woods in the years I’ve been foraging. The quantities are staggering. Some of those western woods are mushroom factories.

If I lived out there and knew that all the best mushroom spots were overrun with commercial pickers I might not be so happy (although I’d be happy to find a forest with a fraction of the tasty fungi those characters pull out of the forest). Here in Ontario I’ve never seen those quantities of mushrooms. Maybe there are areas where people can pick commercially, but I haven’t found them.  In the areas I forage, if one other picker has been around, it’s time to go to another forest. There just aren’t that many mushrooms to go around.

The Mushroom Hunters is a fascinating insight into a world most of us did not know even existed. It’s a compelling book that focuses on the author’s interaction with a few people who make their living foraging. I think that people who are interested in nature and food and unusual occupations would really enjoy this book. You don’t have to be a mushroom-hound to read it.

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