Foraging in Minnesota: Snozzberries

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If you’re reading this, you probably don’t know what you’re missing. Everybody else is in the woods. 

The snozzberries are out.

Snozzberries, which belong to the Snoziferum genus, fruit only every 23 years. To further complicate things for eager “snozzforagers,” they come out for just one day: the day after March 31st. 

Snoziferum, spp.

If you thought snozzberry was just a wallpaper flavor, you’d be wrong. There are in fact three species of Snozzberries. Minnesota has the distinction of containing the region where the ranges of all three overlap: namely the patch of woods behind the Dairy Queen in Aitkin. 

The best known is Snoziferum purpurea, or the Purple Snozzberry. They grow in the form of a hardwood tree, and the berries appear at the junction of branches. S. purpurea is found mainly in shaded uplands of most of Minnesota and north central Iowa. Berries are highly coveted by porcupines and are usually consumed by midday. 

Snoziferum aculeatum (Orange Snozzberry) appears in evergreen form and is often confused with ordinary fir trees (bottom photo). Orange snozzberry trees occur in riparian areas of northeastern Minnesota and southern Ontario. Its shiny berries grow near the ends of branches and are roughly the size of purple snozzberries. There is a multi-colored genetic variant, though rare, which is rumored to have been developed by the Oompa Loompas and accidentally released into the wild. Observations are encouraged to be reported to the Snozzberries of North America Foraging Union.  

The third and most rare is Snoziferum asinus, which grows in swamps and peat bogs of Minnesota, Ontario, and Saskatchewan (top photo). Known as the Dream Snozzberry, fruits are roughly half the size of other snozzberries and grow directly on mossy surfaces without other vegetative support. In fact, it has no leaves or stems at all— only a root system. It is the most prized variety among foragers because just one berry is rumored to induce weeks’ worth of phizzwizards. As with the other varieties, its fruit withers and disappears in less than 24 hours. 

The Snozz-mystery

Not surprisingly, little is known about snozzberries. This is mainly because nobody has been able to secure funding for a comprehensive research project, which would last more than two decades. What’s more, snozzberry plants are almost impossible to identify without the berries intact. 

They are widely believed to flower about halfway through their 23-year cycle, but no photographs exist. In fact, their reproductive mechanisms are hotly debated. Some believe them to reproduce asexually. 

A select, vocal few subscribe to the “Snozzwanger Theory,” which proposes that snozzberry specimens sprout from the discarded baby teeth of those deadly beasts, the location where they touch the soil determining which of the three species grows therefrom. Needless to say there has been no physical proof secured to support this theory, however, it actually seems to be gaining traction in recent years simply because this theory keeps getting repeated. Scientists are genuinely baffled by this phenomenon.

The Snozz-harvest

Foragers these days will have a harder time finding these treasures than their parents and grandparents did. Purple and orange snozzberry trees were widely overharvested about 50 years ago because their avocado-colored wood was prized for making veneers for kitchen appliances. This is not to say that dream snozzberries are any more plentiful, because they have always been considered scarce. Additionally, dream snozzberries are one of the most dangerous berries to pursue, as hundreds of foragers have sunk and disappeared into the bogs. Those who don’t disappear will typically develop a raging case of toenail fungus which is usually cleared up by the next snozzberry year. 

The typical snozzberry tree will have between one and two dozen berries at harvest time. Those who find more than they can eat on location will find it hard to preserve their finds. This is why people usually forage for snozzberries in groups of 50 or more; letting any go to waste is a terrible shame. 

If you happen to find yourself in a position with more snozzberries than you can eat or share on the spot, a dark, warm, moist location will keep them fresh for several hours after being picked. A perfect place is in one’s armpit. Most newbies shy away from this practice, but the upside is being able to share the harvest with more people. The downside is that if they start to go bad, it’s hard to tell. 

Regarding their taste, snozzberries are not remarkable in the least. Orange snozzberries have a mild citrus flavor, purple snozzberries taste much like Concord grapes. Dream snozzberries are unique in that no one claims to like their flavor, which is like a combination of dog hair and moldy towel. 

This year, corporate leadership at Never A Goose Chase has decided to offer compensation for fresh snozzberries of any variety. Bounties will be paid according to quantity, condition, and type. Foragers can expect $10-230/lb. for orange and purple snozzberries, and $628/lb. for dream snozzberries. Call 1(800) 555-3665 for drop off location, and don’t ask questions. Payment options will be a) cash, and b) merchandise vouchers for Al’s Goldfish which don’t expire until April 31st. 

*photos courtesy of Foragers Of Occidental Longitude Snozzberries

If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit the What to Forage page.

Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain

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I was on the phone last night with an old Minnesota fisherman. He asked if I’d done anything interesting lately. I said, “See if you can guess. What are yellow with black markings, plentiful, and taste good when they’re battered and fried?”

“Bananas.” 

“Yeah, well, okay….here’s another hint: they wiggle and flop when you throw them on the ice next to your sled.”

“Puppies?”

“What? No! I’m talking about yellow bass.”

“Huh. Never heard of ‘em.”

No kidding. 

Continue reading “Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain”

BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing

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For years I have dreamed of camping and ice fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Biting cold and slush-laden lake tops have kept me home the last two winters. That was fine; I’m not one to press my luck. But the warmer-than-average weather we’ve enjoyed lately had me itching to get at it.

Entry Point 25, with walleyes in Newfound Lake and brook trout in Found Lake, was the perfect setting for my introduction into winter adventuring. Little did I know, however, that introduction would come with a sobering peek into my own psyche. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing”

The Year of Untouchable Bucks

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Hanging some antlers on the wall is a dream that sparkles in every deer hunter’s eye. Unsurprisingly, big bucks dominate deer hunting marketing and media. I will admit I’m not immune to the images and hype.

But at this time in my life, my main priorities each deer season are observing tradition, pursuing new experiences, and doing all I can to secure meat for my family. My 2020 deer hunt embodied those three as much or more than any other, spread across two weeks and three distinct settings. Continue reading “The Year of Untouchable Bucks”

Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt

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It all started about two years ago. My deer season had almost gone by without a single deer sighting. I’d spent two rainy days in a deer stand on private property, then one especially frigid day hoofing it on state forest land. If it weren’t for the good fortune of my brother and dad, we’d have been short on meat for the year. Continue reading “Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt”

Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe

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After my incredible deer hunt in the Mississippi bottomlands of southeast Minnesota last season, I’ve been hot to find similar territory for future excursions. And since the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge contains almost limitless opportunities for somebody with more ambition than sense, it was an obvious place to start.

Continue reading “Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe”

Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur

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I haven’t had many fun surprises lately. For better or worse, life has been plodding along at its sedated, pandemic pace. Nothing seems to change and there isn’t much to look forward to. Until Thursday, that is. 

An invitation came out of the blue from my friend Scott Mackenthun, who is a Fisheries department manager with the Minnesota DNR. He asked if I’d like to go out with him and try to catch lake sturgeon. I’d never caught one before, and wouldn’t have thought that was likely to change. I was intrigued, to say the least. Continue reading “Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur”

Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries

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It’s blackberry season. While I sit here typing this out in mid-August, I have a hunch there are literally tons of them out there going unpicked. And while not every year is good for blackberry picking, we’ve had adequate rainfall in 2020, which is a good sign. It was the same last year, when I literally picked gallon after gallon throughout most of August and into September, within a mile of my home.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms

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Yesterday I found my first hedgehog mushrooms of the season. It was on a short outing with my daughter; she was after raspberries and I wanted to follow up on the sudden burst of mushroom activity in the yard. I rightly suspected some edible mushrooms would be available, mostly chanterelles and lobsters. Those were good finds, but I hollered out loud when the first few hedgehogs appeared on the forest floor- they are among my most favorite mushrooms to eat. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms”