Last weekend my fungi-lovin’ family piled into the car and drove 5 hours north of the Twin Cities to White Earth Indian Reservation. Our mission: hunting wild mushrooms with the Anishinabe (Ojibwe), seasoned experts and other mushroom fanatics like us. It’s fall here in Minnesota where it can get chilly, especially at night, so it was most likely to be the last weekend of the season for a wild food foray. In fact, although we collected a lot of good, healthy mushrooms we saw plenty that were already slimy, dried or otherwise gone bad.
The 2010 Fall Wild Food Festival and Mushroom Foray took place September 17-19 at Little Elbow Lake Park. The weekend was structured into a two and a half day outdoor, hands-on learning experience and was coordinated by White Earth Tribal and Community College Extension Service in Mahnomen, MN. Robert – Bob – Shimek, the coordinator, introduced us to the world of fungi.
We started the wild edibles foraging on Friday afternoon and continue the harvesting and identification of wild mushrooms on Saturday and Sunday. Kelly Larson and Steve Dahlberg were the featured wild edible and mushroom gatherers. Becca Dallinger coordinated the camp – set up, cooking, equipment, break down, etc. Bob, a local Native who has spent most of his life in northern Minnesota, had warned us in advance to wear blaze orange since the foray occurs during the muzzle loader deer season. The campground and foraging areas are located in a remote area of the reservation, in black bear and wolf habitat.
Our leader, Kelly Larson, is a long-time mushroom enthusiast. She’s a member of the Minnesota Mycological Society, the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club (an informal group of avid mushroom hunters in Bemidji), and lives at The Bagley Farm in Clearwater. She’s also a keen birder and can tell you a lot about prairie chickens. We were lucky to have her lead us into the forests and appreciated her donation of one of her delicious heritage turkeys for a camp meal.
Steve Dahlberg is the Extension WETCC Director. The WETCC Extension Office acts as the liaison between the college and the community. They offer classes and workshops at little or no cost to community members. The Mushroom Foray was supported by a grant through WETCC and was free to registrants. Steve and his colleague, Stephanie Williams, have helped create and lead many of WETCC programs, including the Local Food program, classes and seasonal camps, tracking, naturalist training, Indigenous crop research and ecotourism. They have also both successfully completed a local foods challenge, eating only food grown within a 250 mile radius where they live for one year.
Each day we traveled to diverse forests on the reservation that Bob had selected in advance. The first day we stayed around Little Elbow Lake and primarily hunted in a hard wood forest. The Maple trees were bursting with orange, red and yellow colors. Together with the clouds over head they made beautiful reflections and patterns on the lake. The first mushrooms we found were only steps away from the camp. We found chantrell, puffballs, lobsters, coral, and many LBMs (little brown mushrooms – there are so many that it’s hardly worth trying to identify them all), and much more. Kelly showed us how to carefully cut each mushroom away from the root, placing them in a special loose-woven basket or separate small brown bags to take back to camp to identify later.
The second day Bob took us to a pine forest loaded with Rassulas. Rassulas aren’t good to eat. But when the lobster mold catches hold and turns them red… ta da! A tasty mushroom treat! We also got to see colorful Indian pipe (really another type of mold), lots of TBMs, fairy ring mushrooms, boletes, and lobsters. The kids found a skull and some bones they will research and identify. It looked like a coyote to me. We could hear hunters in the nearby woods and were glad we had our blaze orange on.
During our time at camp we helped Becca prepare and cook the meals. She cooked everything on a camp stove or the fire pit. The food was incredibly fresh and delicious, however the leek soup and lobster mushrooms sauted in butter were my favorites! And, being northern Minnesota – especially White Earth Reservation – we had plenty of locally harvested wild rice (manoomin).
As the sun went down the kids played together along the shore of Little Elbow Lake. We could hear their laughter, laughter created by spending an adventurous day together in the Northwoods. The sky was clear and the evening got chilly. Away from cities and urban light pollution we were able to gaze at thousands of brilliant stars scattered across the universe. Sitting together around the fire, Kelly, Bob, Becca and Steve shared some of their favorite mushroom recipes and preservation methods with us. We pondered the identity of some of the mysterious fungi we’d collected. Naturally, as Minnesotans, we discussed our beloved morels. Eventually I rounded up the kids and headed over to Becca’s house to spend the night, grateful I didn’t bring a tent on this cool evening. Becca (who is also an herbalist), her husband Joe and their kids have been good friends of ours for a long time and encourage us to come up and share these wonderful experiences together.
The final morning, after a huge breakfast prepared by Becca, Bob took the gang to a mixed forest to hunt. We packed up our bags and mushrooms and headed south. We’ve become fans of WETCC’s wild food program and look forward to coming back for other seasonal camps (maple sugar, berry picking, wild rice harvest) and the “Wild Food Summit” next June for the annual gathering of wild food enthusiasts in the Northwoods of Minnesota. We are also looking forward to doing more wild edibles foraging around the Twin Cities.
Driving home I reflected on how wild food was our traditional food until very recently. Agri-businesses has developed cultivated and genetically modified food that most of us now rely on. Wild food was once necessary for human survival, but now most traditional knowledge of wild food has been lost. Wild food has no packaging, no chemicals to force it to grow, no pesticides, can be picked locally (minimizing food miles and pollution from vehicle exhausts), is fresh and tastier, ensures plant diversity (as opposed to mono crops), is free, gives us a chance to spend time in nature, and often provides medicinal benefits. Thank you Steve, Bob, Kelly, Becca and everyone who attended the foray. Your dedication and commitment to helping people understand the importance of healthy food, healthy communities, and healthy families is deeply appreciated!
I hope to see you at the next camp! – Travel Momma
Some recommended books:
* Mushrooms Demystified By David Arora
* Peterson Field guide to edible wild plants; Eastern and Central North America By Lee Allen Peterson
For more information, contact Robert Shimek at 218-407-0698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.