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Brain matter or delicious mushroom?

A large mushroom, brain-like in appearance, grows at the base of an oak tree in northwest Minnesota. Checking in with Bemidji mushroom expert Matt Breuer revealed the mushroom was a “Hen of the Woods,” an edible species that is much tastier than it looks. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Brad Dokken

It was growing at the base of an oak tree, a large fungus that bore more than a passing resemblance to a brain.

How long the mushroom had been there I’m not sure, but it caught my attention last Sunday afternoon.

My knowledge of edible fungi is limited to morels, so I wasn’t particularly tempted to pick the giant mushroom until I had a better idea what it was. It didn’t look particularly appetizing.

Still, I was curious and so I dropped Matt Breuer a note on Facebook. Owner of North Country Guide Service in Bemidji, Breuer is a wild edibles expert who offers trips for a variety of natural bounty in addition to the numerous fish species that swim in Bemidji-area lakes.

I had my answer minutes later.

“Hen of the woods,” Breuer said. “My favorite!”

Once I knew what I’d seen, I did some more hunting on Google and came across several items on Hen of the Woods, including an article freelance writer Bill Marchel of Brainerd, Minn., wrote last August that appeared in the Star Tribune.

Marchel described the Hen of the Woods as a fall mushroom and wrote it is “regarded as one of the most preferred mushrooms.”

They’re also notorious for growing at the base of oak trees, which is exactly where I encountered the mushroom I saw last weekend. The name comes from the mushroom’s appearance, which some people say resembles a hen sitting on a nest.

As for me, I still think it looks like a brain.

One thing’s for sure, I’m going to pick the mushroom when I’m up north this weekend, and if it’s not too old and dried up, I might even give it a taste test.

“They are very edible and quite good for you,” Breuer wrote. “My favorite way is to cut them into small chunks or strips, fry them in butter, then add eggs and make scrambled eggs.”

Blueberry bonanza

Speaking of picking, the blueberry bonanza continues in northern Minnesota. I haven’t seen a crop like this in years, if ever.

I ventured out last Saturday morning and was back with a bucket of berries within two hours of leaving the yard.

Without getting too specific, the blueberries were exactly where I expected to find them — in open areas adjacent to jack pine trees.

Best of all, they were right next to the trail in an area with just enough breeze that I didn’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes. The ground was absolutely blue, in places, and I never made it to the good spot.

The clock is ticking on this year’s blueberry crop and the berries likely will run their course within the next week or so.

For those lucky enough to venture out, though, this year’s crop was one for the record books.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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