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Incredible edibles: Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club studies fungi

The day’s bounty yielded a wide variety of mushrooms. Russula, seen in the foreground, comprised the largest portion. There are about 1,000 species of russula, explained John Mikesh, that can only be distinquished by their dust-like spores under a microscope. Even though they are favored in eastern Europe, they typically aren’t eaten in Minnesota. Some have a mild taste, some chalky. Russula are pickled and eaten as a Christmas treat in Siberia. (Shannon Geisen)1 / 2
Wayne Buckley of Laporte joined the club on this particular foray. He loves baking biscuits with the lobster mushroom and chanterelles he finds near his home. (Shannon Geisen)2 / 2

Well-saturated with mosquito repellent, armed with wicker baskets and bearing thick walking sticks, a group of 20 forage through dense, green foliage a mile south of Walker.  They are in search of the elusive chanterelle.  Why?  They are hungry.  And inquisitive.   Tinged with a fruity, apricot-like scent, the entire golden chanterelle is edible, including the tapered stem. It pairs well with eggs, poultry and seafood or is a great addition to stews and soups.  Chanterelles can be harvested beginning in early July so it’s the focus of this particular foray, hosted by the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club.  During the fruiting season, the group meets monthly to gather mushrooms and study them. The forays take place around Park Rapids, Akeley, Nevis, Walker, Hackensack and Bemidji.  

Each fall, they feast. A mushroom banquet is held at a regional restaurant.  Winter meetings are devoted to further study and planning the next summer’s forays.  The eclectic group includes microbiologists, horticulturists, engineers, photographers, teachers – and, of course, budding mycologists.  They aim to study fungi.  “I’ve been picking for 40 some years,” said Rosa Stolzenberg, a retired microbiologist with a cabin on Island Lake, south of Nevis.  “After we pick, we spread them out on a picnic table and identify.”  Stolzenberg is one of the founding members of the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club, which began informally in the early 1990s.  

Within the past year, they formally organized as a club, electing officers, launching a website (http://paulbunyanmushroomclub.areavoices.com) and establishing a $10 annual membership fee.  While the morel is a popular wild mushroom, there are, in fact, 40 kinds of edible mushrooms in Minnesota.  And there are seven deadly poisonous ones.

 “We had been picking mushrooms on our own, but we had a limited repertoire,” said Janice Springer. She and husband Bill Dahl live north of Nevis. “We realized we had limited ourselves because of a lack of information.”  So they joined the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club.  “These forays are great,” said Springer. “The experts say, ‘This is good. This one isn’t.’ So you feel a lot more confident.”  Bill Satterness simply loves “tramping through the woods.”  A new member from Ojibway Lake, Satterness brought along his camera for his first mushroom foray.  “There are so many interesting things if you just slow down to look for them,” he said. “In the course of looking for mushrooms, you see ferns, trees, flowers. I’d encourage everybody to go for a walk in the woods, no matter what the purpose.”  

One of the local experts is John Mikesh, a retired engineer and founding club member.  “Our mission is to pick all the mushrooms we find,” Mikesh explains. “We have three primary goals. One is scientific. Two, we teach others how to identify mushrooms. The third is to find choice edibles. That motivates many.”  Club vice president Michael Blassey also guides beginning mushroom hunters.  “There are incredible mushrooms in our area, and not just edibles,” says Blassey.  After an hour of searching, the group returns to the trail head with their treasure-trove: russula, wolf’s milk slime mold, northern tooth (Climacodon sptentrionalis), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), chicken fat (Suillus americanus) and a few chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).  The names are as quirky as the fungi.

 “I would’ve liked to have found 20 pounds of chanterelles,” quips Bill Dahl. “I try to find something to eat.”  “There are so many varieties, it’s interesting. I always like to find something new,” he adds.  “That’s the whole point,” agrees Stolzenberg. “You learn something new every time you come out.”  Scientists have discovered that intermittent, random rewards drives people to pursue an unpredictable task forever, Dahl noted.  Mushroom hunting is like that, he adds.  ­­

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