Finally, its here. Spring
is springing and the first scattered reports of morel finds
have begun to dribble in from around the Midwest, and this
annual renewal is the signal for most outdoors mavens to
head for the woods.
Here is a brief morel hunting guide
applicable to most places where this most delicious fungus
is found. That includes nearly every state. Timing
of appearance is delayed as you move north.
WHERE TO FIND THEM: Black morels
grow in the same kinds of places their later arriving kin,
the white/gray and yellow morels grow, they just pop up
first. The very best places to look for all these species
are areas where there are live or dead elm trees. Even areas
that once held elm trees or where there are a few rotting
stumps are good spots to look. This is true even in suburban
yards. Many city dwellers walk into their yards on an April
morning and find morels standing like small spikes in their
Of course, you arent going
to find any morels in your yard if your yard has been regularly
sprayed with herbicide. And, you have a much better chance
of finding a morel if a few old trees remain standing on
Out in the woods your chances are
better. The very best chances in my experience are in spots
where a large tree or several large trees have been blown
down or toppled from old age. These events open the forest
floor to sunlight and, in the case of blown down trees,
the earth is often disturbed. This frequently stimulates
underground mycelia, the main vegetative part of all fungi,
to send up fruiting bodiesin this case the morel or
Another excellent place to look
is where fire has opened the forest floor. For years I found
large black morels around a spot behind the house where
I burned a slash pile on the edge of the woods. Another
good place is around your outdoor barbeque pit, if you have
burned sticks and limbs there.
WHEN TO LOOK: Although morels can
pop up just about any time when conditions are right for
them, the very best times are on warm mornings following
a warm nighttime shower. Morels have to have moisture to
thrive, and the first warm nights are always good stimulators.
All varieties will
appear sometime during April in Indiana, later in Michigan
and Wisconsin, earlier in Kentucky and Tennessee, excepting
the mountains. The sequence is black morel, white/gray morel
and yellow morel. The long-stemmed woods mushrooms
with the tiny black sponge-like cap usually appear later
in the month. Although not as prized as their larger-capped
relatives, these 'shrooms are very tasty too.
To realize good success as a mushroom
hunter, you have to spend a lot of time looking. When conditions
are rightwarm, moist morningsthe wise morel
hunter scouts likely areas every day. You will often see
a car or pickup parked along a country road in the mornings
this month, as morel hunters stop on the way to work to
make a quick check.
Oldtimers always used to tell me
that the very best time to hunt morels conincides with that
time when dogwood tree leaves are "the size of a mouses
ear." Thats a pretty small leaf. That time hasnt
arrived yet, but it wont be long. Check those dogwood
IDENTIFICATION: If you have never
seen a morel before, it is probably best to get someone
who has to identify your first finds. Although morels are
very distinctive are hard to mistake for something else,
there is one fungus called the false morel that is toxic.
Some people get sick after eating this variety. False morels
look most like the early black morel. So far as I know there
is no false morel that has the coloration of the white/gray
and yellow varieties.
There are some fungus identification
books around, and books with photos of morels can give you
a very good idea of what to youre hunting. However,
there is no substitute for experience. The best bet is to
get someone who knows morels to take you hunting. Once you
have seen a few in their natural habitat, you will never
forget their appearance.
PREPARATION: Most morel fans slice
them lengthwise into two pieces. Soaking overnight in saltwater
will get rid of any small mites that may or may not be present.
If the morels you find are dried out from standing too long
in the woods, soaking will revive them.
Once soaked, coat lightly with flour
and pan fry until they are golden brown. This is a real
taste treat. If you consume them along with a platter of
crappie or bluegill fillets and a good helping of wilted
lettuce, you will realize the very best Hoosier meal there
DJS MOREL TIP: Remember, morels
are rather fragile things, so if you stumble into a large
patch, take care in picking and bagging them. The weight
of a mess of morels will crush the ones at the bottom of
the bag and you will have a bunch of morel bits and pieces
when you get home. Plastic bags are great, but dont
go dropping bags around the woods. There are enough plastic
bags lining country roads without adding to the litter.
CONSERVATION: Altough the part of
the fungus you see above ground is only a tiny portion of
a sometimes huge underground organism, the fruiting body,
the morel, is the reproductive organ. If you pick every
last morel you find in a patch, you are effectively thwarting
reproduction. Always leave a few.
One of my favorite oldtimers sent
a note last week too. Howard L. McKenney is an 82-year-old
Bloomington resident who has been in a wheel chair for 19
years. He produces excellent morel drawings that feature
an elflike fellow name T. Wiley Mushroom. One of his recent
drawings tops this page.
McKenney is a warehouse of morel
lore, and he reminded me that morels can be frozen for later
"If you get enough, put them
on a cookie sheet and freeze. Then you can have them for
Thanksgiving breakfast. They are great. Remember,
you have to cook them first. If you don't, they turn
to mush when you thaw them," wrote McKenney. Be sure
to store them in an air tight freezing bag to keep them
from suffering freezer burn and drying.
And, who would have guessed, morels
are apparently good for other things besides eating. According
to Howard, he has a lady friend who writes cook books. When
she visited last year, he pulled out the frozen morels.
"She hadnt had morels
for years and really loved them!" McKenney reported.
Along these lines, Bloomington cook
extraordinaire Rita Hefron, was afraid her husband, Mike,
would be unable to eat morels prepared the favored wayrolled
in flour and fried in butter. But according to correspondent
Jennifer Hubbard, you can use morels in any recipe that
calls for mushrooms. They are so much more tasty than any
other shroom that your friends will praise your recipe.
I have never had enough spare morels
to experiment, but Ill bet a morel-laden pizza would
be a treat to rememember.