RANIER, Minn. (AP) -- Dave Bolstad, like many northern Minnesota residents, loves the outdoors.
But many of Bolstad's forays into his yard, nearby woods and hunting shack result in an edible bounty provided by nature.
Bolstad, who lives a few miles southeast of Ranier, began finding and picking mushrooms about five or six years ago.
''It's the challenge of finding them,'' he said. ''I enjoy finding them just as much as eating them. Of course I wouldn't really need this excuse to go into the woods, anyway.''
He talked to area veteran pickers and read books about mushrooms to help him identify the edible species located in northern Minnesota. Two books he recommends are ''Edible Mushrooms'' by Clyde M. Christensen, and the ''National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.''
Mushroom growth, like another of Bolstad's outdoor hobbies -- tapping maple trees for syrup, is weather-dependent. That makes it difficult to pick a date for when to start looking for them, he said. Bolstad begins searching for the first of the delicate treats he harvests just as the area begins to green up, usually around the end of April and beginning of May.
Bolstad's mushroom picking lasts the entire warm-weather season, he said. Morels, he said, fruit in the spring, oyster mushrooms in mid- to late-June, and chanterelles in August.
Morels, he said, fruit quickly and provide pickers about a one-week chance at harvest.
''There are sayings like, 'They start to come out when the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel's ear,''' he said. He also measures the window of morel-picking opportunity by the appearance of fiddlehead ferns.
''Morels are a one-shot deal,'' he said. ''It's in the spring and that's it. You have to wait until next year. That's all there is.''
Mushrooms can grow just about anywhere, he said. He suggested looking for edible mushrooms in grassy areas, wooded areas, on tree stumps and the trunks of dead or dying trees. In addition, he noted, they can sometimes be found in areas where the ground has been disturbed.
''It's a moisture thing,'' he said of the fungus. ''If you get a rain and then a hot sun, they'll come up.''
But locating some species of mushrooms can also be puzzling. ''One year you pick them in one spot and the next year there is nothing there,'' he said, joking that morel hunting occurs ''when there are big-time wood ticks, but before the army worms.''
Bolstad recalled one trip into the woods over deadfalls and through mud where he found several morels. ''I was all hep for the next summer. It was hell to get in there, had the wheeler stuck in the mud and nothing there,'' he said laughing.
Chanterelles, however, fruit in the same places each year.
Pickers of the valuable morels are secretive, he said. ''People don't tell where they find them,'' he said. ''You can't beat it out of them. They're not like picking blueberries. Sometimes you might find one morel, but sometimes you run into quite a few.''
Bolstad has successfully grown his own oyster and shiitake mushrooms in his back yard. He purchased the spawn from a catalog, which also provided instruction on producing a crop of mushrooms.
For the oyster mushrooms, he placed the spawn on cut and stacked aspen stumps, between which he had layered sawdust. The stumps were covered in plastic in a room of his home.
''Pretty soon, it gets all silty, like a webbing, and the mycelium (spawn) is taking over the logs,'' he said. The logs were then taken outside and buried about six inches in the ground. The mushrooms fruit when it rains.
Oyster mushrooms look similar to oyster shells and grow in layers. ''I like oysters better than morels because they're meatier,'' he said. ''They're a no-brainer, because they only grow on dead popple, nothing else. They're easy to identify and when you find some on a tree it's usually a big gob and they kind of smell like licorice.''
But after finding wild oysters, he said he doesn't bother growing them. Instead, he said, he's turned to growing shiitakes.
The shiitake mushrooms are grown on oak or red maple logs, which have had the ends sealed by wax. Holes are drilled into the logs and pegs containing the mycelium are inserted into the holes. The mushrooms usually fruit one year later after a wet period in the spring. However, he said, the logs can be forced to fruit by soaking them in large pails of water for 24 hours and then placing the logs outside.
Other edible species of mushrooms that can be found in northern Minnesota include puff balls and fairy rings.
Mushrooms can be used in a variety of recipes or simply sauteed in butter or olive oil and served as a side dish. The large oyster mushrooms can be sliced into chili and spaghetti sauce, or sliced onto hamburgers. ''It's pretty darn good,'' he said.
Bolstad said he sometimes breads and fries the oyster mushrooms and shares them with his buddies at the Boise Cascade papermill, where he works.
''But there are people that won't touch them,'' he said, explaining that they fear they will become ill by eating the mushrooms. Some mushrooms, if eaten, will make people sick, while others may result in death, he noted.
Bolstad limits himself to picking the three mushrooms with which he is most familiar -- morels, oysters and chanterelles -- to avoid the possibility that he may pick and eat a poisonous species.
''There are some other (mushrooms) that I kind of know, but if there's a shadow of a doubt, I don't pick them,'' he said. ''That's when I want to be with somebody else that knows mushrooms.''
Mushrooms can be stored by drying or freezing, he said. Some people, he said, run a string through fresh mushrooms and hang them in a dry room for a few days.
Bolstad cautioned would-be mushroom pickers and eaters to limit their alcohol intake when eating wild mushrooms. Some species cause a chemical reaction when mixed with alcohol, he said.
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