I am super excited to have Langdon Cook come out to sign his new book, The Mushroom Hunters. I imagine we will also have some copies of his previous book, Fat of the Land.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’ve been writing full-time since the publication of my first book, Fat of the Land: Adventures of
a 21st Century Forager. I also lead foraging/cooking field trips, teach writing workshops, and write a regular column for Seattle Magazine. My interest is the intersection of food and nature, and more specifically, the fascinating characters who live at that intersection.
I think the story behind you getting a taste of mushroom hunting is really fascinating. Can you tell our readers a bit about your first encounter with the morel hunters?
The idea for The Mushroom Hunters came to me while harvesting morels in July, 2007. I was in the North Cascades of Washington State near the Canadian border, in one of the last truly wild regions of the Lower 48, home to wolves and grizzlies. A friend and I heard strange voices in the woods. Moments later we came face-to-face with two men, both wearing impossibly large packs filled with morels, maybe eighty pounds apiece. Unlike us, these men were picking mushrooms to sell, spending months in the bush working in abject conditions that would test the meddle of anyone. I had heard that commercial mushroom pickers often packed guns into the woods and guarded patches with territorial vigor. They stared at us and we stared at them. Nothing was said. Then, just like that, they turned on their heels and disappeared back into the timber. It was like a Bigfoot sighting.
Did your perceptions change after your first encounter to when you started really researching and developing this book?
A wonderful mythology has grown up around mushroom hunting. You hear stories of secret patches, competitive pickers, and cloak-and-dagger tactics in the woods. But most of the pickers I met were eager to share their unusual occupation with an outsider. This was the first time someone had paid attention to what they did for a living.
I attended this last mushroom show and was amazed at how many people were there. Do you think the foraging movement is growing and changing? Why do you think that is?
Foraging is trendy, there’s no doubt about that. Some of the recent interest is part of a larger trend of resurgent DIY resourcefulness. I call these skills the “home arts”: cooking, canning, sewing, and so on. Maybe the Great Recession has had an impact–and maybe folks are trying to rediscover some of the old knowledge. My grandparents made bathtub gin in the Depression; there’s a speakeasy in Seattle called Bathtub Gin. What’s old is new again–and suddenly hip. My real hope, however, is that once the patina of trendiness has worn off there will still be a desire, for instance, to take back the food system in this country. Or to get outside and experience the natural world. Or to make your own clothes.
What are your favorite spots in the PNW?
I love it all: the remote fastnesses of the North Cascades; the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula; the Columbia badlands. I love the fact that I can fish for salmon within Seattle city limits.
A full schedule will be up soon! Stay tuned.
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