Morel Mushroom Hunting Tips
Spring is nature’s most bountiful time of year. Animals are producing young, trees are waking up from winter dormancy and there’s plenty of food to go around for all of the wildlife - and for us too. Some of my fondest memories while growing up are from spending time with my family, patrolling the woods for wild edibles. We’d often return home with a five-gallon bucket full of blackberries, mushrooms and wild lettuce. To top it all off, we’d usually have a stringer of perch for a complete meal.
As of late, foraging has grown in popularity for many reasons. It’s a perfect way to spend time outside in near-perfect weather. Whatever you find is as organic as you can get. And, perhaps most importantly, foraging is a way to introduce youngsters to the outdoors and teach them self-reliance, survival skills and conservation lessons.
Hands down the most popular wild edible lately seems to be the morel mushroom - and for good reason. This tasty fungus grows in much of the U.S., save for parts of the west. Starting in March through May, they’re incredibly abundant and easy to identify. Getting started is as easy as stepping outside. Of course, as with any foraging, there are precautions to consider. Here are some morel mushroom hunting tips to get you started.
Learn to Identify Morels
We’ll start this section by disclosing we’re simply providing guidance on what to look for. If you’re ever unsure of a mushroom - or any wild edible, for that matter - don’t eat it. Don’t even touch it. Eating the wrong mushroom can make you sick and in some cases be fatal. The good news is there’s only one mushroom that resembles a morel that is slightly toxic.
The fungi you’re after, black and yellow morels, can be as small as a quarter and as large as a soda can. What makes these distinctive is the conical, wrinkly cap full of pits attached to a white or yellow stem. The entire mushroom is hollow. They can range in color from yellow, gray to almost black, depending on the time of the season.
The most important of the morel mushroom hunting tips is identification. This is the morel you're after, with a pitted cap and hollow interior.
False morels, the mushrooms you want to avoid, have a cap that appears to bulge outward and hangs over the stem. Cutting the mushroom in half will reveal it’s not completely hollow, like the morel you’re after, it’s and full of cotton-like fibers. The stem also runs the length of the cap. These are all signs that should tell you to stay away from that particular variety.
The cap of this mushroom hangs over the stem and doesn't contain hollow pits, telltale signs this is a false morel.
Where to Look
When the nights start to warm above 40 degrees and spring rains start, the mushrooms will begin showing up. They’ll pop up initially on south- and west-facing slopes near field edges, as the sun will warm the soil in these areas first. Then as it gets warmer and the sun hangs higher in the sky, you’ll find them in the woods. The best places to start looking are near trees, particularly oak, elm, ash, hickory and aspens. Even an old apple orchard is a good place to search. These fungi prefer well-drained soils.
It can be tempting to stumble upon a cache of morels and take the whole lot. But doing so can inhibit spore distribution and decrease the mushroom population in that area. Instead, take only a few, leaving some to repopulate. Also, use a mesh bag with holes to transport the mushrooms from the woods to your vehicle. By doing so, the spores will deposit along the forest floor as you’re walking and further spread the fungi across the woods.
Clean and Prepare Them
Rinse your freshly picked morels in water for a few minutes when you get home. This not only cleans them, but can help to remove any rogue critters lurking inside.Slice in half and rinse briefly again. Be sure not to rinse for too long as they can get soggy.
While they’ll last for a few days in the refrigerator, they taste best fresh. Accentuate their flesh-like texture with some butter in a saute pan. Seer for a few minutes and serve as a side dish with any meal. Of course, you can always cover them in batter and fry them.
The only downside to foraging morels is that the season is short-lived and occurs only once a year. While they can be preserved in the freezer, nothing beats fresh. The only way to know if there are any in your patch of woods is to get outside and start searching.