A great aspect of a good hike, is that you never know what is around the next corner. Early to mid Spring, brings a bunch of budding trees and new growth all over the forest floor. As the suns rays warm the soil all around, wildflowers and wonderful mushrooms begin to pop their heads up. Amongst all of this springtime glory, are the mushroom hunters in search of many a chefs favorite mushroom, the Morel. What a fantastic way to add some fun, even competition and culinary delight to our hike! See who can find the most morels and then utilizing your favorite camping cookware, dice, sauté and enjoy the unique flavor of fresh wild Morels.
One caution, beware of poisonous mushrooms. Be sure to study up or bring a guide before venturing out. Morels are the easiest to identify and safest to eat of all wild mushrooms. Usually if you find a sponge-like mushroom, up to six inches tall in the early spring, it is most likely a Morel. There are False Morels that you must be aware of prior to hunting for these delicious specimens. Here are a few identifiers to get you started:
* Morel – honeycomb appearance with ridges and pits; False Morel – wrinkled or cerebral appearance
* Morel – stems are hollow; False Morel – stems are chambered, contain cottony substance
* Morel – attached to the stem near the base of the cap; False Morel – attached to the stem at the top of the cap
* Morel – edges are whitish or black in color; False Morel – red-dish brown, chestnut, purplish-brown, or dark brown
The easiest way to identify the real Morel is to slice them longitudinally, then look for the hollow stem and how the stem connects to the cap.
So where do these tasty natural wonders pop up? First thing, if you find one, keep looking in that vicinity. Of course, watch where you step. Morels form spores and utilize the wind to spread. When the spores spread, five years ago (yep, they have a five year-cycle of nutrient gathering and storage), most likely a wind direction blew the spores in a certain pattern. There was also some nutrient source or environment that was conducive for growth. Morels like to grow around decayed or decaying trees. Many of the trees found on your way, like pine, ash, sycamore, cottonwood, fir are all known to be fertile grounds for the Morel. They can also show up in fields, orchards, fence rows, hedges, railroad tracks, islands and even grow over strip mines. If you come across a section of the forest that was the victim of a fire, look closely as morels love these areas.
Now the hunt is over and you have a pile of Morels. It’s a fantastic time to pull out your camping cookware and reenergize yourself. Certainly Morels are tasty over steaks, with poultry dishes, in a soup or as a pasta filling. However, the best and simplest way to enjoy Morels is to slice, gently sauté in butter, add a touch of pepper and salt. Last of all, eat.
As I write about Morels, many child and early adult memories come back to life for me. One of my favorite adventures into the woods, was to mushroom hunt. As with many of the natural wonders in the world, nature offers unlimited excitement in the woods and along our trails. If you have enjoyed looking for hidden eggs, you will enjoy hunting for mushrooms. I was fortunate enough to find many of these beauties under pine groves and decaying trees on many occasion. The best part of the hunt? Bringing them home and sharing them with the rest of the family.