Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Maitake

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Whether you call it Maitake, Hen of the Woods, Sheepshead, or just Bill, Grifola frondosa is a sought-after mushroom. It doesn’t seem to get the hype that morels and others do, but it is, in my opinion, one of the best-tasting, most versatile, all-around great mushrooms. I get downright giddy when the summer is coming to a close and I can start checking my favorite spots. Throughout the season, I see a lot of excitement on social media over some really mundane mushrooms like Pheasant Back and Chicken of the Woods; frankly, I don’t get it. Maybe taste and texture don’t matter as much to other people. Don’t get me wrong; I eat those too when I find them. But for me, there are few mushrooms I’d rather find than Maitake when I head out the door. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Maitake”

Bring a Kid: Backpacking

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After a hot and sweaty couple of miles on the trail, it didn’t matter how cold the water might be or that there wasn’t really a beach. Once we’d found our campsite, taken off our packs, and changed, my kids and I took to the lake for our hard-earned reward. We spent about an hour playing in the water before going ashore for a break. I was made to promise we weren’t done swimming. After sitting in the shade and eating raspberries a while, my son said wistfully, “I wish we could stay here a week, just to swim and eat berries.” He was in paradise. We all were.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Backpacking”

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Wild Hazelnuts

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Minnesota is host to two varieties of wild hazelnuts: American (Corylus americana) and Beaked (Corylus cornuta). The Beaked hazelnut grows mainly in the Appalachian and Northeast states, the western Great Lakes region, and West Coast states. The American hazelnut’s natural habitat is exclusively east of the Rocky Mountains, mainly from Minnesota to Maine and south to Arkansas and the Carolinas. They occupy slightly different ranges and habitats in Minnesota, but are both widespread and can often be found growing side by side. Their seeds- a bit smaller than the commercially grown european variety- are eaten by gallinaceous birds (grouse, turkeys, etc.) and especially squirrels, chipmunks, and mice.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Wild Hazelnuts”

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Thimbleberries

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August 2005, Isle Royale    My wife and I went ashore from the ferry as it stopped at Windigo. With half an hour until the ferry continued around the island, we went into the visitor center to get our book stamped and ask about what we might find on the trail. We learned about the wolves, moose, and thimbleberries. “Whatberries?” I wasn’t sure if I’d heard correctly. “Thimbleberries,” repeated the Park Service employee. She described the berry she was talking about, and sure enough, we found plenty over our 6 days of hiking the island.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Thimbleberries”

Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN

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  • Bumper crop of hazelnuts
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Are you looking for a way to get kids into the outdoors? Do you want to do something simple, accessible, universally appealing, and fun? Take them berry picking. 

I took my kids yesterday to some public land in east central Minnesota with the hope of finding some mushrooms and, if lucky, some raspberries or blueberries. Well, blueberries ended up being the main attraction, with some bonus raspberries and mushrooms as well. This is why we call it “foraging,” and not simply “harvesting.” You just never know what you’re going to find.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN”

Death By Mushroom

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A few years ago, my dad told me a story about a guy who had a cabin across the lake from our family’s place up north. Legend has it he picked some mushrooms and brought them home for his wife to cook up. When she expressed her doubts, he proclaimed, “I know my mushrooms!” and slammed his fist down on the table. She cooked, he ate, he died. 

Now, I have no idea what those mushrooms were. What I do know is that people die or become very sick every year from mushroom poisoning, or mycetism. It is unfortunate but almost inevitable. Continue reading “Death By Mushroom”

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Chanterelles

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The young jack pines were thick and visibility was limited where my dog and I searched for the elusive spruce grouse. Lush green moss covered the ground and made for easy walking. All at once, my eyes were drawn to a handful of bright yellow spots off to my left; they glowed on the dark moss, almost as if lit from within. I knew instantly they might very well be the other prize I was looking for: chanterelle mushrooms. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Chanterelles”

Expedition Food: Forager’s Fish Soup

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My wife and I had a great trip to the BWCA last week. My main goal was to catch and eat fish, and the first one (my wife’s first lake trout) fit the bill perfectly. I had tentatively planned stops at other lakes to fish for brook trout and splake, but the weather forced us to make choices that prevented it. Total time spent fishing was not what I’d hoped, but that’s why we don’t count our successes until afterwards. Persisting through the rain was a triumph in its own right, and fish soup was our reward. Therefore, I considered our time on Crystal Lake a resounding success with a lunch of lake trout soup and supper of fried walleye. Continue reading “Expedition Food: Forager’s Fish Soup”

Product Review: Sea to Summit X-Pot

It all began a year ago when I received a funny-looking thing for my birthday from my brother and his wife. “It’s a pot for cooking; we thought it would be good for your hiking and camping trips,” she explained. I had to examine it a bit to understand what it was: a collapsible cooking pot, made of aluminum and silicone. With no backpacking or canoe trips in my immediate future, I put it away with similar equipment (and apparently almost forgot about it). Continue reading “Product Review: Sea to Summit X-Pot”

BWCA Entry Point #64, destination: Crystal Lake

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End of May, 2018

For my fortieth birthday, I told my wife I’d like to take the river fishing float trip I’d been thinking about for over 5 years. As spring approached, I started to think critically about this plan, and realized that bad weather could turn a good river trip really bad in a hurry. On a river, we’d have a starting point, a destination, and a finite time to reach that destination. Rain- especially of the relentless kind- would not only make that time miserable, but potentially dangerous. Shifting the trip to the Boundary Waters would not only give us flexibility in terms of dealing with the weather, but also a chance to get into the lake trout that had successfully eluded me over the winter. Game on.  Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point #64, destination: Crystal Lake”

Do Something New: Sucker Fishing (And Smoking)

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There is a pathetic time of year that comes after the ice melts and before spring really gets going. Fishing is slow, and turkey hunting hasn’t yet started. It seems every year during this time I find myself itching to get outside and just do something, if only because the weather can be so seductive. This year, I came across a couple mentions of spring sucker fishing that really piqued my interest, especially when I read that suckers are supposed to be tasty when smoked. I thought about when and where I might be able to try this, but didn’t come up with much; I spent a couple hours probing a creek by my house with no results. Then it dawned on me that I’d have the opportunity to try some cold northern rivers on my way to see the sharp-tailed grouse dance (another story, another time). Perfect. Once I’d identified my chance, I couldn’t not try my hand at sucker fishing.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Sucker Fishing (And Smoking)”

Book Review: Three Mushroom Guides

Every year on social media, there are people looking for suggestions for good mushroom guidebooks. While browsing the internet or (especially) the bookstore, it becomes clear that some books are not put together well, some are not good for Eastern U.S. foragers, and some are just plain junk. While I’m not saying these are the three “best” books on the market (a pointless judgment call, really), I will describe what I like about each and why I would recommend each.  Continue reading “Book Review: Three Mushroom Guides”

Beauty: Birch, Mozart, and Human Nature

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On an early spring morning this year, I was attending a dress rehearsal for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem mass, one of his most recognizable and beloved works, and a perennial favorite (Ironically, Mozart left it unfinished when he died at the young age of 35, and much of the music wasn’t actually written by him). There I was, sitting in a church pew and watching the fast-passing altostratus clouds through a window high overhead, when the orchestra and choir started the Lacrimosa movement. I was utterly blindsided. The sight of cottony clouds streaking across the blue set to the soundtrack of a true master was profoundly and inexplicably moving. It was the kind of moment that makes a person gasp, and its abrupt arrival magnified its effects on me at least threefold. It was an unexpected moment of beauty that would change the whole week to come. Continue reading “Beauty: Birch, Mozart, and Human Nature”

Morel Forecasting Tools

Black morel mushroomsThat time of year has come: the morel season is approaching and social media is all abuzz. Rumors of a “morel map” are flying around and folks are going on about soil temperatures. It seems like mysterious, closely-guarded chaos. There are always some overeager individuals who are looking for any little sign that the mushrooms are about to pop, but are, in reality, weeks ahead of themselves. Believe me, I have been one of those people in past years. Any trips to the woods result in no more than a light workout, which is not necessarily a bad thing aside from the deer ticks. But in the interest of efficiency, we want to get the timing right. And we certainly don’t want to miss out on anything. Believe me, I’ve been that guy too.

Phenology Should Be Your Future

One thing that can help in future years is to pay attention to the phenological clues around you. Continue reading “Morel Forecasting Tools”