Foraging has never been so much fun!
Morels will soon be popping up, especially with a combination of wet ground mixed with sunshine. Hunting morel mushrooms is a tradition in the Midwest and across America. Every state has a version of this popular mushroom including Hawaii, so check on your state’s variety at your local Conservation agency.
Hunting morel mushrooms has been a lifetime experience for my brother and me. My first morel mushroom hunt happened May 7, 1953, 63 years ago with my mother. I was born the next day. She has never missed a mushroom season since. My brother and I go with her now. Mom does not handle creek banks or hills as easily these days at age 85, yet still manages to hunt through creek bottoms. Morel mushroom hunting is her only addiction.
“I guess you learn a few tricks after over 60 years of hunting morels,” Mom says. “I always carry a heavy walking stick to move vegetation out of the way and to hit stinking snakes. You never know when one of the slimy things will just suddenly be there. But I have spots that have to be checked. I have several old red oak stumps and trees I look around every year. Some years they produce and some years they don’t. But I always have to go back and look.”
Hunters should start looking for Midwestern morel mushrooms in late March or early April when the ground temperature is 57 to 60 degrees. Plenty of moisture mixed with temperatures in the high 60s to low 80s are the perfect conditions for good mushroom growth. April and early May provides warm rain and good overnight temperatures. Morel mushrooms are temperature sensitive.
Dying elm trees are said to produce a rotting root system that feeds morels. You may not find morels in the same spot after the roots are rotted away. Don’t limit your search to only elms; check unlikely areas. Morels could pop up anywhere. Apple trees are possibilities because constantly rotting fruit can help produce morel mushrooms.
Early-season hunters should start by checking southern hillsides and creek bottoms open to sunlight that quickly warms the soil. Warming trends make eastern areas productive. Morels do not grow by the sun, lacking chlorophyll the chemical that absorbs sunlight as energy to reproduce. Morels start popping up at dusk and grow through the night.
MAKE SURE IT’S A MOREL MUSHROOM: There are poison mushrooms in the woods. Most notably, a false morel looks similar to a good morel. One of the easiest ways of determining the false morel is by slicing it long ways. False morels are not hollow.
The false morel is heavier than a good morel and almost solid in the stem and meaty. The insides of a false morel may resemble brains while the good morel is smooth inside. Avoid parasol-shaped mushrooms, or mushrooms that look like wide-open umbrellas with white rings around the stem and white, milky gills. When in doubt, take your find to a local game and fish commission to make sure your mushrooms are edible.
WHERE TO GO: The Missouri Department of Conservation has unlimited public access. Note that permission from the MDC area manager must be obtained before hunting morels on public grounds. Check the Conservation Atlas for the names and contact information for each area.
EQUIPMENT: You will need a good pair of walking boots, light colored clothing in case early ticks make an appearance, a mesh bag, a good walking stick and your best pair of eyes. DISABLED HUNTERS: Wheelchair or disabled morel hunters are limited to paved paths at wildlife areas. Morels can occasionally be spotted from these trails, sometimes with binoculars. You may need a helper for picking out-of-reach mushrooms.
COOKING MORELS: Soaking in salt water is good for fish, but not morel mushrooms. This does not kill or remove the bugs and the mushroom’s texture will become slimly and salty. Instead, only soak morels in cold water.
Most wild mushrooms are difficult to digest when raw. If you do find wild mushrooms that you trust, make sure to cook them well. You only want whole, firm, and fresh mushrooms with thick stems and no damage to the body from insects or other animals.
Mushroom hunters cut each morel in half and dip them in eggs. Each “shroom” is fried in cornmeal, flour or crushed crackers. Either way, fry until golden brown and don’t invite company that night.