Fungi for some, obsession for others

The Minnesota Mycological Society has approximately 100 memebers.

On Saturday, they went out on their last hunt of the season, venturing into the woods despite cold rains and biting winds, in search of their ultimate passion: mushrooms.

The Minnesota Mycological Society is composed of approximately 100 members who meet once a month to discuss and identify the mushrooms they have found. During the season, which runs April through October, the society hosts bimonthly forays to gather more specimens.

Those who hunt mushrooms took up the hobby for a variety of reasons.

Some do it to find highly accessible and otherwise expensive food sources. Others do it for scientific purposes. Many hunters do it for both reasons.

The common thread among most hunters, however, is that once they’ve caught the bug, it is often difficult to let it go.

“It’s just amazing. There’s something magical,” said doctoral student Bryn Dentinger. “It’s always a treasure hunt, and you never know what you are going to find.”

Dentinger discovered mushrooms one Saturday afternoon in high school during a bout of boredom. His mother sensed it, handed him a field guide, and suggested he spend some time identifying mushrooms growing in the backyard.

“A world unraveled before my eyes,” said Dentinger, who has now been a hunter for more than 10 years and is currently researching DNA sequences of 30 different types of porcini mushrooms.

For Dentinger, mushrooms are as much a scientific curiosity as a culinary one.

“Why carry all of this food with me when there are these resources in the woods?” said Glen Creuziger, a board member of the Mycological Society who first considered mushroom hunting three years ago while on a backpacking trip. Soon after, he began hunting, and it became a regular hobby.

Of the thousands of mushroom varieties found in Minnesota, nearly 25 are nonpoisonous edibles.

“Since I’ve been mushrooming, my recipes have really changed,” said Maxine Bethky, a six-year veteran of the hunt. “I’m more inventive.”

During the season, Bethky goes out almost every day, enabling her to pick the mushrooms when they’re prime.

“I really want people to taste the mushrooms,” she said.

Wild mushrooms can possess quite a variety of aromas and flavors. Janna Beckerman, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, said some can be fruity or have aromas of an apricot, such as the chanterelle.

Others can possess nutty or earthy flavors, such as the porcini, while some have smells that are reminiscent of carrion.

Beckerman began mushroom hunting more than 14 years ago.

“It gets me out of the house,” she said. “It’s relaxing, and if it’s really good, I’ll have something nice to eat.”

Beckerman makes a variety of dishes from her finds. These include wild mushroom omelettes, mushroom tarts or fish with sauteed mushrooms.

Her interest also lies in discovering something unique.

Beckerman once found a rare mushroom, known as “indigo lactarius,” while hunting in the pine forests of Texas. It is notable because of its uncommon shade of blue, rarely seen in nature.

She decided not to pick it because it was too rare.

Ultimately, the quest for mushrooms is about “the fun of the search,” Creuziger said.

It has been a great year for mushroom hunting in Minnesota, thanks to heavy rains, Bethky said.

“I have enough mushrooms to last me through the winter,” she said.

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected]