Tips for Hunting Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushroom hunting has been a springtime hobby of our family for many years. In a way, it is our way of welcoming warm weather to the region after a long and cold winter. For others, mushroom hunting is a way to make a little money on the side. Whether it is a hobby or an attempt for some income, there is one thing that all morel treasure hunters enjoy the most: eating the bounty.
The tools are not many when you begin your search for mushrooms. However simple, they all serve a valuable purpose.
- A mesh bag to hold the mushrooms. A mesh bag allows the mushrooms to breathe, and it can keep the bugs down to a minimum.
- A hiking stick can serve several purposes, it brush away the dead leaves around the trunk of trees and dead logs and help to keep you surefooted when you climbing up and down hills..
- Good walking shoes that offer your feet proper support are a necessity.
- Tick spray is extremely vital. With the rise of Lyme disease in our area, that is the first thing I stray on before stepping into any wooded area.
The morel mushroom season varies for different regions in the United States. However, in most cases it will make its appearance around the spring months. For example, in the Midwest you can expect to start looking for them from late April to early May, with the season ending by the beginning of June.
The growing cycle of the morel is dependent upon certain variables, such as ground temperature, rain, and air temperature. You can usually begin to see mushrooms appearing in wooded areas when daytime temperatures stay around 60 to 70 degrees and nighttime weather goes no lower than the 40s.
With the wind to blow the spores to different fertile areas, the spores will germinate and begin to form an underground network of threadlike, tubular branches, that will hold the fruit or flower of the fungi, which we all like to eat.
In Iowa, the first type of morel mushroom to make their appearance, are the grays. As you can expect, these mushrooms are gray in color. Then as the mushroom season moves closer to summer, you will begin to see the appearance of the yellow morels.
Where to Find Mushrooms
You will find both the yellow and gray morel mushrooms growing near logs, under decomposing leaves, under dying elm trees, ash trees, popular trees, pine trees, or in old apple orchards.
However, morels do not require trees, to grow. Why? It really depends where the winds blow the spores about. Where the spore lands, is where it grows. Some atypical places where morels have been discovered has been in parking lots, ditches, golf courses and other odd places.
For the experienced mushroom hunter, he/she will rely on any wooded area that has not been disturbed by avid mushroom hunters. If a diehard mushroom hunter finds his own "secret location", know that he will share it's location with no one. In other words, when the demand is high and the supply is limited, sharing is out of the question.
The False Morel
The false morel is poisonous. It is distinctively different from the typical morel mushroom. It truly has an ugly looking appearance, with a flat, brain-like cap that is reddish or brownish red in color. One sure way to determine if you have a false morel is by slicing the mushroom in half, lengthwise. If the stem is solid and meaty, you have a false morel. In comparison, if you slice an edible morel lengthwise, you will notice that it is hollow from stem to cap.
First and foremost, do not eat these mushrooms raw. Though delicious when cooked, they can cause gastrointestinal irritation if eaten raw.
Cooking the morel mushroom helps to reduce the possible gastrointestinal upset by eliminating the hydrazine in the mushroom. The most common way to cook morels is by pan-frying them in butter. The recipe is rather simple. You will need:
- Cracker crumbs (or flour)
Cut your mushrooms in half and soak them in cold water. Then clean to get rid of any dirt and possible bugs in the mushrooms. Rinse and pat the mushrooms dry. (If you decide on a salt bath, do not leave them in the salt bath to long, because the mushrooms will absorb the salt).
- Beat the eggs in a bowl, until well blended.
- Crumble saltine crackers in a plastic bag, then roll the rolling pin over the bag of crackers, making a fine crumb breading.
- Dip the mushroom halves in the eggs then coat it with the cracker crumbs.
Preheat the skillet with butter. Once the skillet is hot, place the mushrooms in the pan and cook for approximately 5 minutes, turning when needed. We place the finished mushrooms onto a plate covered with paper towels, to remove excess butter. Once all mushrooms are cooked, it is time to eat.
It took me a while to figure out how to freeze mushrooms. However, I found the best way to have these mushrooms in the winter is to freeze them in this manner.
Prepare and cook the mushrooms using the recipe under "Cooking Mushrooms" (the one that's just above this) with one minor exception, only partially cook the mushroom for just a couple of minutes. Remove them from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the mushrooms to a freezer bag.
When you are ready to cook, just heat them up for a few minutes before serving.
I personally do not can (as in canning and preservation) morel mushrooms. Why? Morel mushrooms have toxic hydrazines. When you cook the mushroom these toxins usually evaporate into the air. However, when you can mushrooms, these toxins have nowhere to evaporate too, so the toxins which go back into the mushrooms, which can form botulism.
To conclude, for those who are up to the morel mushroom hunt or are just waiting for the hunt to begin, I wish you great rewards and a plentiful bounty. Bon appétit!