Notes by Volunteer Intern Piper Sallquist
Video Summary by Volunteer Intern Claire Waichler
Morels and the Methow: Hunting an Underground CultureOn July 1st, the Methow Conservancy hosted author Langdon Cook for a lecture on his new book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America. Cook is a Seattle-based author known for his writing on the food and culture of the Northwest, and his new book only expands on this. He spoke of his time traveling with and investigating the peculiar group of people devoted to picking and distributing mushrooms in the forests of the West. In certain seasons and years, the Methow Valley is ripe with morels, and this bounty attracts some hobby harvesters and some commercial.
Cook tells his stories with an explorer’s gleam in his eye- at once nonchalant and thrilled to deliver adventure stories from an unexpected origin. Mushroom hunting is a casual pastime for many, but Cook takes a pastime and makes it his entire world. He recounted stories of hours long hikes yielding over a hundred pounds of the coveted fungi, and tales of temporary camps occupied for months at a time during the fleeting harvest seasons. The mushroom trade is the second largest all-cash industry in the United States, and operates in a shady world of seekers too stubborn or independent to pursue an industry with lower-hanging fruit. Cook immersed himself in this culture, becoming a mushroom hunter himself and following the “mushroom trail”, the migration pattern up and down the west coast that allows for full time fungus gathering.
The lecture was also peppered with photos of ways in which mushrooms might be consumed- from lobster mushroom risotto to matsutake stir-fry. Cook’s ability to combine adventure tale and homegrown gourmet was striking and quite effective, and certainly worked as an advertisement for his book.
When asked about the sustainability of the mushroom trade, Cook emphasized the benefits of appreciating and experiencing the forest to its fullest potential.
What a way to start the summer!