Now is the time experienced mushroom hunters start getting the itch. The unmistakable signs of spring are becoming evident. Even though the ground is covered with snow you can feel the weather beginning to moderate. Soon, very soon morels will again appear in those secret places. The location of these spots is a carefully guarded secret and is often only reveled father to son on the deathbed. So, you are indeed lucky, in that if you read carefully and thoughtfully you will discover I’m telling you where to look.
First of all the timing, moisture and temperature are critical. In our area mid March through early May is the season. If we have a week when the night time temps don’t fall below the low 40’s and there has been rain, it’s time to have a look. The earliest fruitings will be on the slopes that warm first i.e. south facing and lower elevation. Think back to last summer; remember those rich places that were full of herbaceous growth? The trillium and the trout lily, the Jack in the Pulpit, the may apple, the ginseng; all these and others grow under the tulip tree, ash and elm. All those plants are brown and dormant now, but morels love the same soils. Now, every slope won’t have morels, just like every slope doesn’t have trillium, but you’ll definitely have the odds in your favor. If you add in an under story of spice bush and some wild grapevines, the odds are even better. Some later fruiting species appear in old apple orchards, but recent poisonings from agricultural chemicals may disqualify those at least from the kitchen basket.
Most folks will recognize 4 different morels (black, half-free, white & yellow), but a 19th century French mycologist (Emile Bodier I believe) classified over 70 different species. All that means little to me as all are edible and delicious. The blacks are the earliest followed by the half-free, the whites and yellows and finally the giant yellows.
If you are lucky enough to find a patch, morels are easy to preserve. Just cut them lengthways and spread them out to dry. A dehydrator helps, but isn’t absolutely necessary. I find the flavor of the fresh ones to be subtle and much improved by drying, but if you must eat them fresh try something simple like an omelet with maybe a little finely minced shallot and some good Swiss cheese.
I didn’t try to describe them because they are the first one most folks learn, just watch out for the false morels.
Got questions? Come to this month’s meeting. I’ll answer them all as best I can except for the location of my patches. See above, I told you where to find your own.
Field mycologist and long standing member of the Asheville Mushroom
(Images by: Olga K, and Tradd C.)