KEVIN GRINDE: Rhythm Of The Trail — A Hike, A Discovery And Then Food Fit For The Gods

The stuff on the log looked like something that belonged in an ocean.

Like pure, white clumps of coral growing on a reef, it stood out in stark relief to the jungle green of early September’s foliage.

How could we have missed it? That we had passed it by the first time on our short hike on the mountain bike trail was odd. Was Mother Nature up to her old tricks again?

Daughter Arin, carrying her 6-month-old and future Himalayan climber Asher in a frontpack, spied the stuff on the return trip. She stopped in her tracks and asked, “What’s that?”

She pointed to what clearly were clumps of fungus growing on a dark gray popple deadfall.

What is that? I wondered.

Of course, I couldn’t keep my hands off it and gently removed a fist-size ball with my trusty knife, which wasn’t really needed because the fungi easily surrendered from the log. I peeled four clumps in all and took a closer look.

The sample felt supersoft, like a ball of feathers, only it was rubbery. It smelled like the September forest floor, which is perfume to my nose.

“What is it?” ended up being the question that would occupy our time for the next several hours.

Nature contains a billion mysteries, and clearly the white fungus was one of them.

Mushrooms, you know, can be deadly when consumed. Or quite fun, depending on your mood, so I’m told. They also can be one of the tastiest things you’ve ever eaten. Probably because a grandkid was around, I entered a cautious state of discovery. So I posed the question on Facebook, “Anybody know what this stuff is? Found  it growing …”

Not even 20 minutes later, Lisa Foss, who lives in Ely, Minn., with her husband, Steve, offered the answer. The Foss couple knows a thing or two about woods, water, flora and fauna — they lead a wild life. So I trusted her. I always trust people who live in Ely.

I also know a thing or two about fungi —  just enough to be dangerous. I’m  hesitant to eat anything I find in the woods. I’ve probably passed up a half-ton of wild edibles over time, but hey, I’m still kicking. One of these days, I need to hire a guide, a mentor, to show me all of the safe edibles Nature has to offer. (Hey, bucket list, make that so.)

As we headed back to the ranch, I was still a bit wary about the mystery mushrooms and felt compelled to further verify our prize’s identity. Turned out to be quite easy. At least a half-dozen mushroom sites I found on the internet were in agreement about our find.

handOur discovery is commonly called the Bear’s Head Tooth mushroom and is one of the easiest species to identify and safest forms of fungi one can consume.

One description found oddly enough on specialtyproduce.com explained our specimens succinctly: “The Bear’s Head mushroom is white with soft spines drooping downward from a thick, branched fruiting body. Often growing from hardwood trees. …  Its texture is meaty and tender with a sweet and fragrant seafood-like taste, similar to lobster or crab.”

Yeah, right.

As the fungi sautéed in butter and garlic, we would soon see about that.

Some of the other info I sucked up on the Web about the ‘shroom includes:

  • Bear’s Head is a member of the Hericium fungi family. Hericiums are found in Minnesota in late summer and early fall. The log that produced the edibles could do so again a few years in succession. Map that log!
  •  Mushy mushroom specimens aren’t good; spongy and stiff is good and crumbly is OK, too. Store them in a paper bag. Don’t let them dry out.
  • Hericium species contain a healthy bunch of ingredients. One is a compound that is an anti-convulsant and neuron protector for epilepsy, brain or spinal cord injury. The edibles also bulge with vitamin D, are high in fiber and protein. Native Americans are said to have dried and powdered the mushrooms and used a paste to stop bleeding wounds and cuts. Asians soak the fungi in hot water to make a sports drink.
  • To prepare the mushrooms for cooking, all you do is wash and then squeeze them to remove excess moisture, like a sponge, which it kind of is since it’s 80 percent water.
  • Break the mushrooms into chunks and cook until the tips are crispy. Or bake them until they shrink to half their size. Dip them in flavored ginger or garlic butter. Or batter them in Panko and fry them. Or pickle them. Maybe dehydrate some and store in the freezer? Use them in pasta. Make a soup with leeks and spuds.

We decided to serve the mushrooms by themselves. Desert seemed the appropriate dish.

We tasted the fungi tentatively at first. After the second and third bites, the expressions on our faces revealed all. The ‘shrooms were so tasty, so delectable, so mouthwatering delicious, so slyly and subtly flavorful, so creamy, just so damn good! we were astonished — speechless even. We couldn’t believe that something so odd looking could taste so heavenly.

And yes, the mushrooms had an inexplicable seafood taste. I thought of snow crab or shrimp during the first mouthful. Arin and husband Adam said they tasted lobster. We’re not making this up.

The next day, Arin, Adam and Asher went to harvest more Bear’s Head Tooth near the towns of Crosby and Ironton, Minn., which are located somewhere between the Gulf Coast and Lake Winnipeg. They prepared and ate three more meals the next few days. Arin said that, after the last meal, the mushrooms still tasted like lobster, but she had reached a mushroom saturation point. Another batch rests in their fridge, and they’re curious how long the ‘shrooms’ shelf life will be.

Meantime, now that we’re armed with information, another return trip to the forest is planned. Maybe Nature will have another surprise waiting to be discovered.

I’m anxious to see how she tops the Bear’s Head shroomery find.


To learn more about mushroom hunting and identification, check out these field guides. Owning a heavy dose of paranoia when exploring the world of mushrooms is a healthy thing. Don’t leave home without one.

  • “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora.
  • “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms” by Gary A. Lincoff.
  • “Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest,” Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich.
  • Online, check out http://mushroomexpert.com

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