Langdon Cook – The Mushroom Hunters


In the late 1970s, I went to work in the woods, on Washington State's Olympic Penninsula. This began a seven year stretch of wildland firefighting interspersed with more or less regularly attended winter and spring quarters at the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources. For varying stretches during those years, I lived in trailers, World War Two era shacks, tents, and a couple of log cabins. In addition to working for the forest and park services, there were a couple of logging stints, setting chokers and chasing around Forks, mostly high lining. Whenever I could, I was mountaineering, skiing, rock climbing, fishing for trout, steelhead and salmon, hunting deer and elk, and foraging, mostly for mushrooms. Were I to pick the top three meals I've ever eaten, like the protagonist of Langdon Cook's, The Mushroom Hunters, I would say they were meals I cooked in the woods or on the beach, and all three included wild mushrooms. Specifically, there were chanterelles, chicken of the woods, and black trumpets, combined with salmon, elk, and trout, respectively. Other than that, there was salt, pepper, butter, and olive oil. The settings for those meals, a beach off La Push, shoreside on Lake Crescent, and on the bank of Goodman Creek, certainly contributed to the magic, but the fact remains that wild food, freshly caught and gathered, and simply seasoned, was the heart of the matter.

Langdon Cook's marvelous book brought those meals back to mind for me, some thirty years after the fact. Great books do that; they ignite passions, or rekindle old ones. The Mushroom Hunters is such a book, a must read, a page burner, in fact.

If you're not yet familiar with Cook, this young northwest writer and wild food lecturer won the 2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award for The Mushroom Hunters; he's also written Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, which I've got on the way. He has the gift, like Rowan Jacobsen and John Geirach, of leaving you wanting more. Reading The Mushroom Hunters revived that old passion in me, frankly. I still fish, hunt, camp, and hike, but for God knows what reason, I'd stopped foraging, and that makes no sense. Our property here on Lummi Bay is rife with edibles, and there are many, many more an easy drive and hike away. Monica and I are going to get back into the woods; I really miss fresh watercress, miners lettuce, and mushrooms…

In 1998, I was frequenting La Conner Chef extraordinaire Thomas Palmer's restaurant. One night he stopped by the table and, after a brief chat, asked what we were eating. When we allowed that we hadn't decided yet, he uttered those magic words, “Let me cook for you,” and he did. I don't recall the whole meal right off hand, but I do remember the fresh wild mushroom appetizer, simply sautéed in butter, deglazed with a splash of white wine and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. We happily fought over the last bites. Wild mushrooms add an unmatchable, solid base note to so many dishes. It's that thing you can't quite place but gotta have; wild, earthy, deep, whatever you want to call it. I've spent too many years letting somebody else bring them to me; it's time to go back in.

The Mushroom Hunters follows denizens of the commercial wild mushroom trade here in Washington and up and down the Pacific Coast. Like Cook himself, it's as much about the passions of cooking and the outdoors as it is about the mushroom trade. A good writer accurately recounts a place, an experience, a thing; a great one puts you there. After reading Cooks magnum opus, (so far, that is; I've no doubt he's just getting warmed up), I bought updated foraging and mushroom guides and cleaned the climbing gear out of my trusty day pack.

Followers here know I'm not one for faint praise. If Langdon Cook got me this fired up, he'll do so for you as well. Go get his books, and check him out on his website, where you can keep abreast of what he's got cooking, including appearances and classes.



Maitake Madness

Our dearest friends Christy and Grant, who were largely responsible for this blog coming to be, are inveterate growers of mushrooms. They have fine crops of quite a few fairly exotic and more-often-found as wild varieties growing on their northern Minnesota spread. All that said, they still like to forage, and yesterday, they happened on a real treat and a rarity in their neck of the woods, a 10 pound Maitake mushroom.

Take note – that’s a 16″ ruler!

If the Japanese name for these beauties doesn’t strike a chord, you may know it as Hen of the Woods, Rams Head, Sheeps Head, or the Signorina mushroom. They’re widely prized for eating by numerous cultures. Maitake and its close cousin, Chicken of the Woods, are two of my all time favorite fungi; they have a bright, savory taste profile that even folks who “don’t like mushrooms” will likely dig. Grifola frondosa is the formal name for Maitakes, which are native to the northeastern US and Japan. They grow in clusters at the base of trees, and are particularly fond of oaks. As with all fungi, you should forage only what you can 100% positively identify. Note that Maitakes, like many fungus, becomes just too tough to eat when they get long in the tooth.

Chris asked for some recipe ideas, which we’ll definitely do, but first, a few words on preserving. If you’re lucky enough to come upon a big stash of wild mushrooms like this, you absolutely must preserve some to enjoy in the dark months down the road. Freezing or drying are both viable options.

For either freezing or drying, thoroughly but gently wash each head until the rinse water runs clear.

Separate the heads into smaller, cauliflower-like stalks, and rinse the remaining stalks thoroughly again.

To freeze, allow the stalks to air dry. Arrange stalks on a cookie sheet with room for air flow around each. Place in your freezer overnight.

Frozen stalks can be vacuum sealed, or tossed into ziplock bags that you then suck the air out of. Frozen mushrooms will keep for 4 to 6 months frozen.

To dry Maitakes, place them in a dehydrator, or separated on a cookie sheet in an oven on warm, with the oven door opened slightly. Dry until the stalks are light, shriveled and snap easily without bending, even at their thickest points. Drying has the added advantage of making a big batch of mushrooms much easier to store. Well dried mushrooms will store for up to 12 months.

OK, ’nuff on preserving, let’s cook; here are three recipes that will work wonderfully with Maitake, or dang near any other wild mushrooms you like, solo or blended.

Mushroom Pho

1 Quart cold Water
1 Quart Vegetable Stock
1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8-10 Ounce package Rice Noodles
1 Sweet Onion
1-2 Serrano Chiles
3-4 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Mirin, (Rice Vinegar OK for sub)
2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3″ to 4″ fresh Lemongrass (1-2 tablespoons)
2″ piece fresh Ginger root
10-12 sprigs fresh Cilantro
Soy Sauce to taste

For Garnishing,
Fresh bean sprouts
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Mint
Fresh Basil leaves
Fresh Limes

Combine water and stock in a stock pot over medium high heat.

Rough chop onion and mushrooms. Fine dice chiles and lemongrass. Mince garlic, cilantro, and ginger.

Sauté onions and garlic with a little vegetable oil until they start to caramelize, then toss them into the stock pot.

Deglaze the sauté pan with rice vinegar. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce, allow to heat through. Add chiles, lemongrass, and ginger and sauté until the chiles start to soften. Add another tablespoon of oil and toss in the mushrooms. Sauté for about 5 minutes until heated through, then set mushrooms aside and toss the rest into the stock pot.

Combine peppercorns in a piece of muslin or a reusable tea bag. Toss them into the pot. Add the chopped cilantro and give everything a good stir. Add soy sauce if you need more; if it’s a bit strong for your taste, squeeze in half a lime instead.

Reduce heat to low and let simmer for two to four hours. Remove the peppercorns.

Boil the rice noodles in a separate pot per directions on the bag.

Thinly slice radishes, quarter the limes, rough chop cilantro, mint, and Basil.

Give every bowl a healthy dose of broth, mushrooms, and noodles. Everybody gets to add sprouts, radish, cilantro, mint, and basil as they see fit.

Serve with icy cold Singha Malt Liquor.



Savory mushrooms are incredibly delicious combined with wild rice and a delicate soufflé; the combination is sublimely flavorful and surprisingly hearty.

4 oz. Wild Rice
1/2 Cup Maitake Mushrooms
1 1/2 Cups Half & Half
1 Cup Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
4 Egg Whites
3 EggYolks
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Grains of Paradise

Prepare rice according to directions.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add flour, salt and pepper. Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until you get a nice color to it.

Add the half & half, stirring constantly, until sauce starts to bubble. Add the cheese steadily in 1/4 cup batches, allowing each to melt completely before you add more. Once all the cheese is incorporated, remove from east and set aside.

In a chilled glass or stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites until they hold a stuff peak. Set aside in the fridge.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they’re thick and lemon colored.

Gradually add the yolks to the cheese sauce, stirring constantly so egg yolks don’t curdle.

Add the rice to the blend and incorporate thoroughly. Cool the blend in hand fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Lightly butter and dust with flour a 2 quart soufflé dish or individual ramekins.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rice mixture. Gently pour the mix into the soufflé dish.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the soufflé has risen and is golden brown.

Serve piping hot with a fresh green salad and a nice Chardonnay.



Finally, here’s a fantastic mushroom pâté that’ll blow your socks off, as well as your guests’.

1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8 Ounces Chèvre
1/2 Cup fine diced fresh Shallot
1/2 Cup dry White Wine
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh Parsley leaves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Thyme (1 teaspoon dried, any variety, is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black Pepper

Trim stems, wipe clean, and coarsely chop the Maitakes.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté, stirring steadily, until they start to go translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté and stir until the Maitakes are wilted and starting to brown. Add the wine, thyme, salt, and pepper, and continue to sauté and stir until the wine is nearly all absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and sauté for another minute.

Transfer everything to a food processor. Add the chèvre and process until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Transfer to a glass ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours to allow pâté to set.

Cut a fresh baguette into round about 1/2″ thick. Rub the rounds lightly with a clove of garlic and toast them on both sides.

Serve pâté with toast rounds and a nice, cold hard cider.