The ‘Morels’ of mushroom hunting

SPORTS_OTD-MUSHROOMS_3_WIBy Avis Allen.

Morels are my favorite mushroom, more so than any other. It could be they’re popular simply because they taste so good but I think it is more the tradition and memories for me. Morels are so prized they sell for up to $20 a pound in grocery stores, farmers markets, or road-side stands. They make the most generous of people become stingy. These people check the weather religiously, disregard sleep, and call in sick to work just to hunt mushrooms.

It may be because they’re widespread, they’re easy to identify, and are a true challenge of patience. They come up in the spring, giving my family a reason to get out and enjoy warm weather. This has been a tradition in my family for a hundred years that I know of. I am sharing what I know about how to find these, some are facts, and some are probably superstitions, myths, and probably just tales that have been told down the family line. If you have any doubt about a mushroom you find, don’t eat it until it has been identified for sure. Some are deadly and some will just make you wish you were dead.

Please dress appropriately. Bug spray with tick repellent is a must, Lyme disease is not a joke and it is in Iowa. Pull any long hair back or put on a hat, trees always seem to find my hair and it hurts when I keep walking while the tree is holding my hair. I also put rubber bands around my pant legs, wear boots or tennis shoes, because snakes are usually out sunning themselves, and while they may not be poisonous it hurts like heck when they bite, or slither up a pant leg. This has happened to a brother of mine, once and only once, but he still says once was enough.

Be quiet and you will see lots of animals and hear many sounds that are very relaxing. Make a day of it with a picnic lunch, lots of water, and a friend. Remember to enjoy the day or time you are in the woods. Mushroom hunting does not require a gun, no matter what a little grandson of mine thinks, but it does require paitence and the understanding that you may not find any.

Found in much of the Midwest states (could be much of the US) from late March through May, and are plentiful, and delicious. These have also been called names like Molly Moocher, Miracle, and Dry land Fish or, my favorite, Hickory Chickens but mostly, people just call them “mushrooms”.

Morels live in and on the edge of forested areas with ground temperature of 45-50 degrees. I look for ash, aspen, elm, and oak trees, around which morels often grow. You may find them on south-facing slopes in fairly open areas. As the season progresses, go deeper into the woods and onto north-facing slopes.

Well-drained, sandy soils like creek bottoms make good hunting spots as well. You’ll find the first morels of the year (they are small) when daytime highs reach the 60s and lows stay above 40 degrees. Look for loamy, high calcium, high lime areas of ground. Another good place is a burn site. My mother told me “morels love a burn”. She proved to be correct.
Morels often grow around dead and dying trees. Old apple orchards and Tulip trees have been known to be good hunting areas. Always look around dead elm trees, when a tree reaches the stage of decay (an old logging area or disturbed ground) where its bark is slipping off its trunk you’ll often find lots of morels around it.

As the season progresses you find bigger, yellow morels. They taste good just not as much as the smaller ones, they’re easier to spot, and it doesn’t take as many to feed a hungry hunter.

Make sure to cut or pinch the stem off at the base, leaving part of the mushroom there. They will be more likely to grow back if you leave part of the “roots” in the ground. Also when you collect morels carry them in a basket or mesh bag. This helps them from getting too moist, and it lets their spores fall through and spread around the area- causing more to grow for next year. Now some people will argue this, but I have been told this my whole life.

Soaking morels in water for a couple of hours cleans them and washes out any bugs living in them. Some people slice them in half lengthwise for a more thorough cleaning.

I love sautéing them in butter. Cooking the mushrooms in butter brings out their rich, almost meaty flavor. If I don’t have very many, I like to scramble them into eggs with some tarragon. Batter-fried morels are also very popular and absolutely yummy. Nothing beats a Morel Mushrooms feast but if you don’t have many another way is throw them on a shish kabob with meat and other vegetables.

The final thing and this is extremely important information, so pay close attention. DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE LOCATION of a good spot once you have found it. People talk, word spreads quickly, and your morels will vanish overnight. There have been family feuds, fights, and jail time served due to the secrets of mushroom hunting being breached. If you have charm and people skills you might try asking about morels in a roundabout and meek way. Beware that you may not get the desired response, or you may wind up with directions to the local haunted forest!

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