Spring is a magical time of year when nature comes alive. Wild turkeys and ruffed grouse are breeding and vegetation is greening up after a long winter’s dormancy. One of nature’s hidden treasures is neither plant nor animal, it is a fungus. Morel mushrooms grow across the United States. They are hard to find, delicious, and valuable. If you’ve never hunted morels, read on and learn why you should start.
What are Morel Mushrooms?
Morel mushrooms are of the genus Morchella. Two varieties can be found in the U.S. Black or gray morels (Morchella elata) are typically found early in the season and are smaller than yellow morels (Morchella esculenta) which show up later in the spring. Both species are highly sought after for their unique flavor.
Why Hunt Morels
Unlike other mushrooms, it is extremely difficult or impossible to cultivate morel mushrooms. Kits are available for those who would like to give it a try, but success rates on cultivating morels are low.
The best way to obtain morels is to find them in the forest.
When to Look
Morel mushrooms start coming up when the soil temperature reaches 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but the season really kicks off when the soil temperature gets up to 55 degrees.
The first morels will appear along field edges and south facing slopes where the ground receives more direct sunlight. As the season progresses, focus your hunting efforts on north facing hillsides to get the last of the year’s morel crop.
Where to Find Them
Morel mushrooms are most commonly found in moist areas. The ground around dead or dying elm, sycamore, ash, and apple trees is a great place to start your search. The nutrients from these decaying trees will support the mushrooms and these spots often produce morels for a few years in a row.
Cover a lot of ground, focusing on the most likely areas. If you see a morel, don’t run over and grab it. Chances are, there are more nearby. Carefully scan the area to avoid crushing unseen mushrooms. Spend a lot of time searching the immediate area before moving on. Once you’re sure that you’ve harvested all the mushrooms from a spot, ask yourself, “What elevation are these mushrooms at?” “What tree species are prevalent in this area?” If you know of another area with similar conditions, go there next.
Why Hunt Morel Mushrooms
People hunt morel mushrooms for two reasons, number one, they’re delicious, number two, to make money.
Morels can be paired with meat or pasta, used as a pizza topping, or simply fried or sauteed in butter. Like other mushrooms, morels take on some of the flavor of the dish they are in, while adding a touch of their own unique flavor.
If you are looking to make money from your harvest, morel mushrooms go for $10-$25 per pound depending on the quality and where you sell them. Wholesalers buy morels or you can sell them yourself at local farmer’s markets or on a roadside stand.
Field to Table
Proper care needs to be taken to avoid damaging your hard earned morels. Pinch or cut the mushroom off at its base, leaving the dirt behind. Carry a mesh bag to store mushrooms in the field and handle them with care. They’re delicate. The mesh bag also allows microscopic spores to fall to the ground and re-pollinate the area.
When you get the mushrooms home, soak them in water for two hours to remove dirt and insects. At this point, your morels are ready to be eaten or stored. Storage options include flash freezing by running cold water over the mushrooms before putting them in the freezer on a cookie sheet or drying in an oven, food dehydrator, or sunlight.
Positive Identification is a Must
Before eating morels, you need to be 100% sure that they are indeed morel mushrooms. False morels and other types of mushrooms can be sickening or even deadly if ingested.
Luckily, morel mushrooms are one of the easiest varieties to identify. Anyone looking for a way to get outdoors this spring and reap some culinary rewards should try morel mushroom hunting. You’ll be glad you did!