Fungus Amongus!

Posted by Karen in Food, Holidays/Birthdays/Etc.
Monday, August 25th, 2008 at 9:06 pm

I turned the big 31 yesterday!  I’m pretty happy about it actually.  I turned 30 and was pretty sure my entire body was falling apart, but I’m happy to report that at 31 I feel much more held together. 

I pondered several options for celebrating being so well held together.  Nate and I had been hoping to visit my brother in Ghana this October, and when we finally came to the difficult decision that we just couldn’t afford it, we decided instead to make this weekend our one big trip, celebrating not just my birthday but also the one year anniversary of our wedding!!

Nate and I stayed in a little cottage in Grand Marais, and took a class at the North House Folk School in identifying wild mushrooms!  We got to spend the day with Mr. Mushroom, Mike McCall, a fungus expert.  We started out in the classroom going over some boomer basics, then20080825174114_k_shroom.jpg headed out to the Kadunce River section of the Superior Hiking Trail.  That alone was exciting for me – I’ve spent a lot of time on that trail, but had never been north of Grand Marais on it. 

In spite of how dry it had been, we were able to find lots of mushrooms!  Ready… go.  20080825174145_lobster_mushroom.jpg This here is one kind of fungus parasitizing another.  Whoa.  It is some kind of common russula, which normally looks like a regular white capped mushroom, that has been parasitized by a Lobster Hypomyces lactifluorem, which alters the shape and consistency of the original mushroom.  Mike told us that although it’s kind of nasty on it’s own, once it has been parasitized, it is pretty yummy to eat!  20080825174025_coral.jpg

This is a coral mushroom that Nate found!  Coooool.  But is it as cool as this slime mold that I found?  That’s right, I said slime mold!  The thing about mushrooms is that the part you see is just the fruitin20080825174345_slime_mold.jpgg body of a whole mess of stuff below the surface.  In the case of this slime mold, mycelia have been living inside that rotting log, and they just decided conditions were right to send out their… uh… slime wad.  the slime wad then traveled up, up, up as far as it could get on that log to give its spores the best chance of disseminating. So cool, and gross, all at the same time.

Nate was maybe most excited about the chanterelles Mike found, 20080825174049_chanterelle.jpgone of the yummiest of all wild mushrooms!  They supposedly have an apricot scent, but none of us really got that. 

We saw lots and lots of a couple kinds of mushrooms that like to grow on birch trees:the Piptoporus betulinus, or Birch polypore, and the Fomes fomentarius, or Tinder polypore.  I kind of flipped when I read in my guide book that the freaking Iceman had one of each of these kinds of fungi with20080825174449_tinder.jpg him!  The first likely for its antibacterial properties, the second as part of a fire-starting kit (the innards can be used as tinder, or to hold a small flame for a long period of time).

After a couple hours of collecting, we took our spoils back to the classrooom to eat lunch while Mike officially IDed them, to talk more and ask lots of questions.  Mike dispelled a myth that I had thought to be true, that every edible mushroom has a poisonous look-a20080825174242_mike_mccall.jpglike.  He said that there are actually relatively few poisonous mushrooms, and that with even just a bit of training, you can tell at a glance whether a boomer is poisonous or not, with only one exception for this region.  I still feel kind of leery of the whole thing, but not Nate.  He hasn’t stopped mushroom hunting everywhere he’s been since the class, and even identified a mushroom growing in our backyard as soon as we got home, determined it was an edible ash bolete, and though the internets said it wouldn’t be that good, cooked it up and ate it anyway! 
After our class, we had an early dinner at one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, the Angry Trout.  Here was my awesome view:  handsome fella and beautiful, Lake Superior!  Here’s what we con20080825184803_angry_trout_food.jpgsumed: locally caught and smoked herring and lake trout, local cheese, fresh green beans, and blueberries, washed down with a Minnesota raspberry honeywine and a Lake Superior Oatmeal Stout. Mmm. 

We had sto20080825184919_pie.jpgpped on our way up the shore at Betty’s Pies for a birthday pie.  I had been dreaming for days about a banana cream pie, but alas, when we got there, they only had a "French" banana cream pie, made with cream cheese instead of whipped cream.  Blasphemous.   So I was forced to settle for this toffee cream pie, which Nate and I devoured over the next 3 days! 
We had signed up to go sailing on the Folk School’s schooner Hjordis, but because of high winds the trip was canceled.  So instead I made Nate ride the Alpine Slide with me in Lutsen!  It turned out Nate was actually kind of scared of the alpine slide.  So on the incredibly long ski lift ride to the top of the "mountain", I comforted him by telling20080825185007_ski_lift.jpg him how safe it was.  Just then, on the track below us – the slow track, mind you – a dad and his little boy came flying around the corner, flew off the track, flipped around in the air, and crashed horribly.  Those of us on the ski lift just gasped and stared, not being able to do anything, 20 feet above them in the air.  I was certain they were unconscious, if not dead.  But then the kid started wailing and screaming. 20080825184732_alpine_slide.jpg The dad managed to get him back on the sled and continue to the bottom of the hill, and we don’t know what happened then, because we were at the top of the hill, waiting in a long line – for the fast track no less! – for a chance to plummet to our own deaths!  I’m pretty sure Nate rode the brake the whole way down, and I started out that way… until this guy in the slow track started to pass me.  Then I opened her up. 

20080825202316_indian_pipe.jpgWe also stopped at the Cascade Lodge to take a walk around and reminisce about the epic wedding we had there just one year ago.  We hiked around in the woods looking for mushrooms, and found these.  I was very excited to realize it was Indian Pipe, a very unique native plant I’ve been wanting to see!   It lacks chlorophyll, and 20080825194122_sleepy_b_day_girl.jpggets nourishment from a beneficial relationship with mycorrhiza – fungus!

And finally, the true sign of a good fun and food-filled weekend: not being able to stay awake in the car on the ride home!

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5 Responses to “Fungus Amongus!”

  1. Rick Says:

    Happy Bday a day late! What a great time you guys had. The mushroom class and then mushroom finding sounds awesome, as does all of the rest of the fun stuff you did together. See you soon!!!!!

  2. MJ Says:

    What a great weekend you two had—just sorry you had to cancel the trip on the schooner as I know you were really excited about that. I must admit seeing you sleeping there in the car is an unusual sight–normally we see you doing the driving, so I’m glad you weren’t doing it on the trip home. I can just see you organizing a “mushroom hunting hike” now for FMR.

  3. Laurel Says:

    Cooool! When we hiked up to Gray Rock, every time Freddie turned around I was stuffing gooseberries into my mouth. I love picking things up off the ground and eating them, so I am very impressed by your mushroom IDing/gathering! :)
    Sounds like a fun weekend away, happy birthday and anniversary!

  4. Marianne Says:

    What a great post. Sounds like you guys had a wonderful time (gotta say, I used the brake a lot when I went down the Alpine Slide). The Iceman and his mushrooms was really amazing – so long ago…. My favorite part of this post: the very first paragraph. Go, Karen!

  5. steve Says:

    I think the banana cream pie with cream cheese instead of whipped cream might be YUMMY – but not if you’re expecting/hoping for/dreaming of whipped cream. I’m glad you had a great birthday weekend – you always try to do something cool for your birthdays – good you’re still succeeding.