On the Hunt...For Morels
Spring time is a beautiful time of year that offers many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. As turkey hunting winds down, the forest floor greens up and to many, one thing comes to mind. Not only are morel mushrooms challenging to find, but the sizzling of a pan full of morels sautéing in butter is one of the most rewarding sounds you will hear.
Many people are unfamiliar with morel mushrooms, either not knowing what they are, not being able to identify them, or just not knowing where to find them. That’s fine, because everyone starts somewhere and hopefully those questions will be answered here.
Morel mushrooms are a sought after table fair, because they are an excellent healthy and natural source of food and better yet, they are free if you pick them yourself. They are commonly used in the finer restaurants and very often the morels used were picked by local morel hunters. Many morel hunters pick morels to sell them, sometimes getting nearly $40 a pound or more, although more commonly about $20 per pound. However, don’t plan on making morel hunting your career. It can be very hit or miss and morels only grow in a short period of time (2 weeks to a month) in the spring.
Morels are actually very easy to identify. With other edible mushrooms, it takes practice to differentiate the edible ones from the poisonous ones, but morels are really one of a kind. Morels have a spongy look with the head connected to the stem the entire way, rather than at a single point at the peak of the head. Although there are several color variations, they are most commonly a blondish or gray color.
Although they really don’t look like true morels, false morels do confuse some people. False morels ARE POISONOUS. However, false morels are connected at a single point at the center of the head and the head twists off very easily. Look up some images of false morels before you go out to be sure you know the difference, but again, it’s fairly easy to tell them apart.
Finally, where do you find them? Well, this can slightly vary, but generally morels grow in deciduous forests where elms or oaks are common. Most often, clusters of morels are found near the base of dead elms. Morel hunters use this as a general rule of thumb, but they really can grow just about anywhere. As soon as you think you have them patterned, they prove you wrong. If the area you are looking in has dead elms, keep your eyes peeled! Without going in to too much detail, there does seem to be a trend with the number of morels and the “deadness” of the elms. A little bark peeling off the tree is usually the best way to tell that you are looking at a potentially good dead elm.
If you use these tips, you should be able to find more morels, and maybe for some, your first ones! Whether you keep them and eat them yourself, give them to a friend or landowner, or sell them, hunting for morels is an excellent excuse to get out in the woods and it doesn’t have to take much time if you don’t want it to. Good luck out there and happy hunting!
Written by Josh Morrissey
Photo credit: Sheldon Leuhmann