I find that as I get older, traditions actually have become more important to me. They somehow mark – almost slowdown – the passage of time, which otherwise seems careen forward at cheetah speed.
Carving pumpkins in the fall, carving turns in the winter ... and morel mushroom hunting in the late spring, early summer.
The taste of cooked morels is amazing – something of a cross between a juicy steak and fresh avocado – but for me, it’s almost more about the hunt than the find.
The search for these decidedly camouflage ‘shrooms is something of an adult scavenger hunt. They’re elusive. They come and go quickly. And, if you’re not careful, someone else will beat you to the punch.
On that note, the only thing more dangerous than asking someone where they get their firewood is asking them where they get their morels. It’s OK to ask general questions, such as “Oh, are you finding them down in the river valley or up in the forest?” or “Do they seem to be out on north facing or south facing slopes?”
But zeroing in on specific GPS coordinates is up to you – and that’s what makes it such a fun (and, OK, sometimes really frustrating!) game.
To help you get pointed in the right direction, I have 7 tips for morel mushroom hunting to share with you, but first a warning and a few words from Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma.
The warning: Be careful about fake morels. They’re out there and they’ll make you sick. The main way I distinguish them is to check out whether the top and stem of the mushroom are one solid continuous fungi (real morel) or two separate pieces that easily come apart (fake morel). If you’re unsure, slice them in half vertically. Real morels are hollow on the inside and fake morels are fleshy. (The picture below is a real morel.) If you’re still unsure, there are a lot of resources out there on the great wide web to help you figure out it ... take the time to do the research!
Words of wisdom from Michael Pollan: Morel hunting is “a form of meditation” with the morel “serving as a kind of visual mantra shutting out almost every other thought.”
With that in mind, now on to my morel mushroom hunting tips ...
1) Look in groves of aspens and cotton woods. Look near tree bases, decaying logs and ground slumps. They especially tend to poke up through last year's decaying deciduous tree leaves.
2) A cornucopia of morels can be found a year or two after an area has been burned (usually from forest fires or controlled burns).
3) Moisture seems to spur on morel growth. To increase your chances, go out hunting a day or two after a good rain shower.
4) Find a morel mentor. Show that you’re willing to be a serious student and follow the practice with strict orthodoxy, and someone might take you under his or her wing. That’s how I first learned to find morels.
5) If you don’t find morels the first time, look again. Morels are masters of hide and seek. They can be right before your eyes and you still may not see them. When I first taught my husband to find morels, I’d tell him “I’m looking at 3 morels right now, can you find them?” It takes time to train your eyes for them.
6) Have fun! Because, heck, unless you’re selling them commercially, that’s what it’s all about.
7) It’s a great family activity! Your inevitably slow pace makes it very kid friendly, even if they eventually lose interest and just start mucking about in the woods instead. No matter what, they'll get dirty (especially if you're in a burn area), which in my book is the mark of a good day!
Have any morel tips of your own? Leave them in a comment below!