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.

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”

Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries

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Every year about this time there is a lull in the foraging season here in Minnesota. The early season has passed and the frenzy over morels, fiddleheads, and ramps is over. The summer mushrooms and berries really haven’t started. However, while raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, and other members of the Rubus clan have yet to even finish blooming, their little brother is here to take center stage.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns

Read More Foraging fiddleheads

The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) seems to be gaining in popularity among foragers, if mentions in social media are any indication. Posts about “fiddleheads” are becoming more and more common this time of year. Also apparent in the social media soup is how much confusion there is when it comes to knowing which species are edible and how they are identified. 

Some people- a proportional few- are vocal in their opinion that the Ostrich fern is not the only edible fern in Minnesota. While that may be true for sometimes complicated reasons, I will not subscribe to that school of thought. Allow me to explain why.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns”

What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps

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Ramps are special, and the season is short. For some foragers, it’s the taste of Spring, and they wouldn’t miss it. I’m not that fervent, but I do like them nonetheless. This year, I made a point to branch out and do more than scrambled eggs with ramps. Now, I’m no chef, so don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas or recipes here. My perspective is that of an avid forager and great fan of trying new things. Continue reading “What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps

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Once again, I blame social media. For what, you ask? For the ridiculous fame that ramps seem to be “enjoying” nowadays. Of course, people have known about ramps for a long time, even holding spring festivals for them in parts of the eastern U.S. where they used to grow prolifically. I say “used to” because it is well known that wild ramp populations are hurting. Because of that, they really don’t need any extra harvest pressure. Every foraging group I subscribe to on Facebook, however, is currently experiencing Ramp Mania. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Black Cherry

Read More Minnesota black cherry

I’m sure you’ve heard of “black cherry,” either as a flavoring or as a type of wood. For me, the name evokes a certain flavor of candy. But did you know it’s a harvestable fruit here in Minnesota? Yes, it is. And this year’s harvest was outstanding. 

I’d been waiting several years for a good crop of these cherries- perhaps 4 or 5. They were not something I went out of my way for, but I usually checked on a couple different trees at least once toward the end of each summer. Well, this year, it was clear conditions were somehow just right. Branches were full of green clusters by July all over in my area.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Black Cherry”

Do Something New: Smelt Netting

When I was growing up in the ’80s, the smelt boom on Lake Superior was already over and fading into collective memory, becoming legend. “Smelting” in its heyday was something everybody knew about and a great many rushed to the rivers to partake in. Nowadays, it’s almost exclusively a “used to” activity; you might have heard it too: “we used to go up there and fill up a barrel with smelt in half an hour.” In recent years, however, I’ve learned that the smelt still run and a select few still pursue them. 

Last Wednesday, I bought a smelt net from a guy on Craig’s List for 10 bucks. The next day I headed for Lake Superior with that net, hip waders, a 5 gallon bucket, what little information could be gleaned from the internet regarding current conditions, and a whole lot of hope. The plan was to start up the shore after sunset, and work my way down if I found nothing. The first stop was the booming metropolis of Knife River.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Smelt Netting”

Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup

Read More Minnesota maple basswood forest

When you try something new, sometimes it doesn’t go so well. A week ago, it was looking like I wouldn’t see so much as a drop of maple sap coming out of my taps. There was more than a foot of snow on the ground, and although the temperatures seemed perfect, nothing was happening. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make maple syrup, not to mention all the nuances regarding the tree tapping and sap collection along the way.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup”

What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes

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Believe me, I’ve been there too. You find yourself in the presence of an abundance of some kind of foraged treasure- perhaps for the first time– and you collect more than you know what to do with. Most of the time these things can be preserved, and we can decide what to do with it all later. For some reason I always seem to envision this taking place on a January day that’s so nasty I can’t even go ice fishing. 

Anyway, the time to decide what to do with all those chokecherries has come. If you’re like me, you’ve made a couple batches of pancake syrup and/or jelly, but there are still several bags of berries waiting down in the basement freezer. The good news is, chokecherry syrup and jelly are unique and tireless, at least in our house (I believe every forager owes it to themselves to at least try the pancake syrup). The better news is, you don’t have to restrict yourself to syrup and jelly; if you use your imagination a bit and have the patience to endure a little trial and error, there are lots of uses for your purple tree caviar.  Continue reading “What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes”

Foraging in Minnesota: Chaga

Read More Drying chaga

If there was a beauty contest for fungus, I know one that would probably come in last: chaga. Resembling a black scaly scab on the wound of a birch tree, there is really nothing attractive about it. But for every point it loses for its ugliness, it makes up for in medicinal qualities. Well, that’s the reputation it has, anyway. It has quite a following among select foragers. However, that could possibly be chalked up to a lack of other things available to gather through the cold months. 

Inonotus obliquus

Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Chaga”

Foraging in Minnesota: Cranberries

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The fourth Thursday of November is still more than a month away, but now is the right time to go out and find that Thanksgiving staple: the cranberry. Didn’t know cranberries are growing wild in Minnesota? You’re definitely not alone. Yes, wild cranberries are fairly widespread in our great state, and with a little patience, a person can harvest enough to get a good taste.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Cranberries”