Time for morel mania
By John Martino
There is no doubt spring is the most delicious time for outdoors enthusiasts. Even though many businesses and activities are closed, the outdoors is always open.
Spawning crappies and walleyes provide succulent, white fillets. Turkey season can reward hunters with some of the tastiest wild game Mother Nature can offer. But perhaps the most valued delicacy this time of year are morel mushrooms. All of these activities also lend themselves perfectly for social distancing.
They pop up almost overnight, their succulent fruiting bodies protruding above the forest floor. Although their life is short lived, throngs of probing Hoosiers anticipate this special time of year in hopes of cashing in on one of nature’s most heralded bounties.
They go by names like yellow, grays and blacks which are referred to as the sponge variety. There are also snakeheads, elephant ears and puff balls, but by far the sponges are most popular, and with good reason, they are delicious.
Besides being Devine in taste, it’s the hunt that is also addictive. In addition to their taste it’s fun to find something completely free yet so expensive in stores. They are considered as gold in the food group. It’s also fun trying to beat the odds finding something at times so elusive. It’s kind of like gambling. Everyone hopes to find the mother lode of fantastic fungi.
Detailed instructions on how to find these tasty treats are very simple. There are none! Directions serve only as guidelines as there is no exact science. Talk to any dedicated mushroom hunter and you’ll quickly learn they all have their own technique and beliefs. Much like fishing and hunting, Mother Nature does not always cooperate. If it was as easy as buying them at the grocery it wouldn’t be near the fun or exciting. Finding them on your own is free, but purchasing them can be expensive as they fetch upwards of $40 per pound.
Few things compare to the thrill of poking through the woods with family and friends in search of these gourmet quality morsels. And, if you find one chances are there are others nearby.
Conditions have to be perfect for morels to grow. Moisture, temperature and other factors dictate whether they will “pop” and when. Some years they will flourish in certain areas and some years they won’t. Have you ever gone the same fishing hole with completely different results?
Those who pursue one of nature’s most succulent offerings run the gamut from occasional hunter to “morel maniac” status. A true “maniac” can be found perusing woodlots daily during the roughly three-week long season. They are easy to spot as dirt normally encrusts their fingernails while their arms will be covered with scratches.
The exact date when the season begins is anyone’s guess, but generally speaking for our area few are found before tax day and almost none after mid-May.
Since I am not a mycologist (mushroom scientist) I won’t even attempt to explain the scientific details of morel growth, mainly because I can’t. But here is a general rule of thumb before beginning your springtime search.
Wait until daytime temperatures climb into the sixties and fall no lower than the forties at night. Many aficionados believe the best finds occur after a rainfall. Focus your search around stream beds, wooded areas, fallen timber that is beginning to decay and always look around briars, brambles and thick underbrush. Some avid hunters tell of their best finds coming from around elm, beech and conifer trees while others target apple orchards where they hope to find the morel Mecca.
But sometimes they can grow in the most peculiar places. Several years back one local hunter found a huge yellow sponge growing near the back steps of his favorite bar.
One of the most important aspects of hunting wild mushrooms is what you carry them in. Take a woven mesh bag with you like the ones oranges, onions or potatoes are sold in. This is extremely important if you want to protect your resource. Morels reproduce through spores which shake loose as they are jostled about. So in essence you will be reseeding your favorite hunting area helping future success.
Another useful item is your own “mushroom stick” to help push away weeds, limbs and tall grasses to get a better look at the forest floor. Some people will even crawl on their hands and knees. They believe this gives them a better perception as sometimes wild mushrooms can be hard to spot.
Morels can be prepared many ways; the only limiting factor is your imagination or culinary skills. Some use them as a garnish. Others sauté them in butter, garlic and a dash of wine then serve over steak or toast. However, the most popular method is to simply bread and fry them in butter.
Without a doubt, morel mushrooms are one of nature’s most succulent offerings, available for only a brief period. They are also fun to hunt and a great way for the family to spend time together. And with the current covid 19 rules in place there is no safer place to be than in the woods.
Photo below; "The end of April through mid-May are the best times to find wild morel mushrooms in central Indiana."