You should have a healthy fear of picking and eating wild mushrooms. If you were to blindly pick a variety of mushrooms from the forest floor and eat them, you would probably be just fine… BUT if you were unlucky, you could find yourself in a world of hurt… and possibly take yourself out of this world entirely.
There are thousands of species of wild mushrooms, many of them are hard to identify for the untrained eye, and some of them are highly toxic and deadly poisonous. Luckily, there are a number of choice wild edible mushrooms that are easy to identify, delicious to eat, and possibly lucrative. In this series, I want to outline some mushrooms that cant be missed. First up, The Morel.
The Morel Mushroom
The Morel is naturally fickle. Attempts at commercial cultivation have mostly failed, and it’s life cycle is not completely understood. Because of this, where and when this delicious decides to fruit can mystify even the most seasoned hunters.
What do they look like?
Morels come in a variety of colors, generally yellow, black or gray. The size can vary from an inch or two tall to five or more inches in height. However, all morels share the general “sponge like” appearance that is hard to miss. To be sure, if you cut a cross section of a morel, it should be hollow throughout the entire stem and cap. Some morels have a cap that will be “half free” meaning the lip of the cap will hang free from the stem.
Warning: There is a very poisonous mushroom known as the False Morel, that can sometimes resemble a true morel. However, the cross section of a false morel will not be hollow. Once you become a little familiar with morels, False Morels are very easily identified.
Where do I find them?
This is not an easy questions to answer, but there are some generalizations that can increase your chances of finding them. First, morels typically fruit in the spring, when the snow has just melted and the soil starts to warm up. The season usually lasts five to six weeks depending on the weather.
Morels seem to prefer disturbed habitats such as trail sides, landscaping mulch, old orchards, and areas with dead and decaying trees. Depending on where you are, morels will grow in relation with deciduous trees like birch, polar and aspen, or in coniferous forests of pine and spruce, as is common in western North America. Look for depressions on south facing slopes where the soil will be warm and moist. They tend to grow in groups, so if you find one, you are likely to find many.
Burn Site Morels
Morels are known to grow in huge numbers at burn sites the year following a forest fire. They will usually be abundant in that area for a few years, but usually the first spring following a burn will produce the biggest flush. Because of this, pickers and buyers will flock to burn sites where morels are expected. Although this is one of the most predictable ways to find morels, capturing this fickle mushroom is never a guarantee.
Morels can be dried and saved for later, but you are better off cooking them right away. Warning: Morels should never be eaten raw, as they contain toxins that can make you quite ill. If cooked however, these toxins are removed. Also, be sure to check for bugs within the brain like folds of the cap.
I like cutting them in half along the length of the mushroom, and tossing them in flour, salt and pepper. Once coated, cook them up in a pan with lots of butter. They will get a little crispy, with a nice meaty texture. They have a very unique flavor – but, I think they kind of taste like little ribs.
Good luck in your hunt for Morels. I think you will find these little guys very tasty and very much worth hunting. Remember however, although they are very easy to identify, don’t eat any wild mushrooms if you are not sure exactly what they are.
Take a trusty guide with you when mushroom hunting! Here are some good sources:
Thanks for reading!
author: Tony Shields, FreshCap Mushrooms