We’re wild about mushrooms! Our wet summer has given way to a wet autumn and Minnesota’s damp forests are producing a bonanza of wild fungi. I got interested in wild mushrooms a couple years ago while Lisa and I were dating. Last summer we were too busy trying to sell a house to spend time adding to our limited knowledge of them. But I convinced Lisa that spending a little more time on it this fall might help us enjoy the outdoors more.
Tom Peterson helps students identify the day's foraging results.
Last year I noted that Dakota County offered a 2 -day class in Lebanon Hills park to learn how to identify, find and hunt wild mushrooms. I was excited to see the class being offered again this weekend. You can monitor the county’s offerings on their website: forever wild. The class starts Friday night with a 3-hour introduction to the mushroom lifecycle and identification of the “fool-proof four”: Morel (Morchella esculenta), Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiportus sulphureus) and Puff Balls (Lycoperdon pyriforme), and about 6 other species. Then it continues on Saturday morning at 10am with a quick run down of the agenda before taking off into the woods to forage and bring back your findings for identification. The day ends with a gourmet chef [Randy Smuk] teaching everyone how to prepare the day’s findings in several soups and a variety of noodle dishes cooked up in an outdoor wok. Then everyone sits down together and eats the bounty. Yum! The cost is $50 per person and it’s worth every dollar. The meal is served complete with wine offerings and this year everyone was treated to special chaga tea. You can find boat-loads of websites dedicated to mushrooms and the special medicinal value of species like the ones that are used for the tea. For example – check out this link:
Not only was this fun, but we also met some rather interesting folks. The instructor, Tom Peterson, is a local mycologist from Burnsville. Tom is a foraging expert who runs his own wild mushroom business and sells to local high-end restaurants like the Lake Elmo Inn. He has several dedicated groupies, both ladies and gents, who hang on his every word during the class and phone him often when needing identification assistance. I divided the class between conservative outdoorsmen driving Ford F-150’s who showed up in their waterfowl rain gear on the soaked Saturday morning. They were ready to tromp through the the rain and damp and hunt down some living fungi as if this was prep for the day when we all might need to learn how to live off the land. Another group seemed like a blend of liberal save-the-planet Subaru drivers with Mark Dayton and AIR 9:30 am radio bumper stickers – laid carefully so as not to disturb their green “Wellstone” shrines on their tailgates, along with 60+ former hippies who warned about misuse of hallucinogenic “shrooms.” Their warnings were descriptive enough to make me wonder whether they spoke from experience. Several others were pairs of friends and a few flying solo as their spouses weren’t into the activity. Apparently, fungi is a good non-partisan relationship builder.
An eclectic group savored the day's findings together at Camp Sacajawea
Tom is an excellent teacher and very generous with his time. He lives and thinks mushrooms nearly 24 hours a day. His eyes often stared to an unseen horizon as he shared his passion. It seemed foraging for wild mushrooms was a means to practice his unique outdoor religion. The room quieted when Tom spoke about the mycelium as being nearly on par with human consciousness and alluding to a possible common ancestor. This is an amazing conjecture considering there isn’t any physical evidence of the mushrooms that existed 30 days ago let alone thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Stories of government sponsored terrorism against old growth honey mushroom mycelium were shared on Friday night. Apparently, ditches are being dug around the city to break up massive mycelium superhighways around the county. Who knew?!
At the end of the day Lisa and I did pretty good. We found Elm Oyster or pleurotus ostreatus. Highly desired and rated! We’re going to put it in some spaghetti sauce. We also found armillaria mellea or Honey Mushrooms. Excellent and abundant right now! Going back to look for more of these. We found hundreds of laccaria amethystina. There isn’t a common name for that one, but it’s an amazing violet lavender color.
We made a wonderful scrambled egg dish this morning out of the laccaria amethystina. Although the color is fantastic, this mushroom doesn’t really have any flavor, however it’s very moist and it soaks up the flavor of what you cook it in. So we sauteed it with fresh herbs from our garden and a little olive oil and butter before creating our breakfast.
Sauteed laccaria amethystina with onions, herbs and bacon
But the real treat was to come later in the afternoon. After class and running a few errands I was a little sad that I had only found one of the fool-proof four, namely puff balls. Since morels are only available in the spring, that meant I was aiming to get a least two of the remaining three. But Lisa and I had both asked God earlier in the day for a successful mushroom hunt, so with aching muscles, tired legs and droopy eyes, I headed over to the park down the street. There’s a small lake a few blocks away with a sizable wooded area. We use it frequently for quick bike rides. I headed over to the park and hiked down the path toward the first giant oak tree. I stepped carefully into the foliage and made my way around the base of the oak. I looked down and spotted grifolia [grifola] frondosus or “Hen of the Woods.” Sometimes AKA Maitake. I knelt down and stared in disbelief. This one was one of the biggest ones we’d seen that day. Several had been plucked in Lebanon Hills, but this one was bigger. I reached under the giant fungus and pulled it free and carried it out to the grass near my backpack. It was too big to fit in.
My first grifolia frondosus find weighed in at 7 pounds!
My late afternoon search had been rewarded! This is the biggest mushroom I’ve ever seen and it was nesting a few blocks from my front door. This is a highly prized mushroom that fetches about $10/pound on the open market. I didn’t bother to look around for more. This was more than I could handle by myself. I’m sure there are more out there. When I got it home it took Lisa and I about an hour to clean and “field dress” the quarry. I filleted it like a giant cauliflower and sliced it into half inch steaks to get at the meat. Later we boiled it and saved the broth to make soup. There has been considerable studies on the immune system enhancements and cancer treatment possibilities of this mushroom.
Today we made Mushroom Miso soup with it. And it was quite delicious. Have you ever foraged for wild mushrooms in your neighborhood? Or tried some unusual dishes with your find? We’d love to hear about it. Or maybe you think we’re crazy? In either case, let us know!
A delicious soup made from our grifola frondosus!
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