Outdoors

Northwest author shares how to find and love wild edible mushrooms and berries

One of the very best ways to experience and enjoy the wonders of nature is by foraging for the amazing edible wild edible foods that are available in the Pacific Northwest.

Renowned author and expert Langdon Cook is in the Tri-Cities this week putting on a colorful and mouth-watering series of presentations exploring the wild edible foods that can be found in the Pacific Northwest’s mountains and valleys.

Cook is an award-winning author and culinary adventurer.

Ever since arriving in the Pacific Northwest he has been on a quest to find the region’s most sought after wild foods for the table.

His slides of foraged edibles in their habitat and in finished dishes will have you reaching for your boots, baskets and sauté pans.

His talks and slide shows will be at the Reach museum at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 and at the Mid-Columbia Libraries’ Connell Branch at 6 p.m. Oct. 17. His visit Connell is presented together with The Washington Center for the Book.

There will be questions and answers and a book signing afterward. Both events are free and open to anyone.

Fierce love of nature

Cook grew up in New England. In his mid-20s, he worked for newspapers in the Bay Area and then moved to Seattle in 1991 where he attended the graduate writing program at the University of Washington.

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Langdon Cook cooking a wild edible food dinner over a camp fire. Courtesy Langdon Cook

“The Pacific Northwest became my adopted home. I grew some moss on me and stuck around,” he said. He has spent over 20 years focusing and honing his writing skills by chronicling his research and personal experiences with the wild lands that he came to love.

He has written numerous best-selling books and speaks all over the country declaring and sharing his fierce love of nature and the outdoors.

“I try to convey the beauty and importance of our natural surroundings in all my writing,” he said. “It’s easy to forget, in the hustle-bustle of daily life, just how miraculous this world is.”

“I learned how to fly fish while working on a guest ranch in Wyoming the summer after my sophomore year in college. After moving to the Northwest, I started roaming the hinterlands with fly rod in hand and discovered the amazing lifecycle of Pacific salmon,” he said.

“I also started learning about all the obstacles salmon faced in the modern world. I remember backpacking with my girlfriend (later my wife) into the Snake River Canyon and seeing these giant trout stacked up at creek mouths, waiting to spawn. They were steelhead — and utterly mesmerizing,” he said.

At the time he was working on a novel, but eventually he switched to nonfiction and focused on writing about the salmon, mushrooms, flowers — with the tools of a novelist.

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Berries from foraging adventures in the Northwest. Courtesy Langdon Cook

“The Northwest offers unparalleled outdoor opportunities. You can hike and mountain bike through old-growth rainforests, or go backpacking deep into the North Cascades,” he said. “As someone who also likes to eat well, I quickly realized that you could dine on nature’s bounty in the backcountry with a little knowledge of the local flora and fungi.”

He’s made huckleberry pancakes while hiking the High Divide in the Olympics; sautéed fiddleheads to go with a trout he’d caught while camping in the Cascades; and made long remote pilgrimages in search of morel mushrooms in the forests of Eastern Washington.

“Foraging is a treasure hunt. Who doesn’t like a treasure hunt? To find a wild delicacy after spending hours studying its habits and haunts is to activate all sorts of primitive instincts that we hardly knew we had. It’s supremely satisfying.”

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Lady fern fiddle heads found in wet areas nearby streams in the mountains of the Northwest. Courtesy Langdon Cook

Morels are one of his favorites.

“They’re mysterious and incredibly delicious. Learning how to consistently find morels is one of the feathers in a forager’s cap. I dry pounds and pounds of morels in my dehydrator each spring and give bags of them as holiday gifts,” he said.

Cook identifies and describes the wild foods that are all around us.

“You can step out the back door, or the front,” he says. Weeds, such as dandelions, are in everyone’s yards and are nutritious and also tasty when prepared with a little care and understanding.”

Northwest foraging

The areas near Tri-Cities are also prime areas for foraging for all sorts of wild edible foods. For example, he describes the area between the trio of volcanoes Mt. Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens as the “golden triangle.”

“It represents some of the best mushroom hunting in North America,” he says. “The Gifford Pinchot National Forest — in particular an area called the Sawtooth Berry Fields — is also one of the finest huckleberry-picking anywhere.”

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A handful of wild strawberries. Courtesy Langdon Cook

Once, while camping and fishing in the backcountry, he stumbled on the biggest patch of porcini mushrooms he’d ever seen.

“After catching a nice brown trout for the pan, I sautéed up the mushrooms and mixed them with a batch of instant rice, which I used to stuff the trout. While this amazing camp meal sizzled over the fire, an unexpected dinner guest arrived — a bear — strolling the opposite bank, his nose in the air. Luckily, he kept to his side of the river,” he said.

Cook’s gol is to help people reconnect to the natural landscape. “It’s good for people and it’s good for the land, he says. “I try to do this not by preaching or arguing but through storytelling.”

“If you want children to know more about our remarkable world get the kids off the screen and get them outside. Nature takes care of the rest. A child can play in a trickle of a stream all day. There’s no better education,” he said.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com.
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