Morels are funny-looking little mushrooms, and very well camouflaged. I was so excited one spring when I finally developed my “morel eyes.” I’d gone hunting for them the previous few years without any success. Maybe I was out too early, or too late, but I just didn’t find any. Several years ago, one of my neighbors went with me and with her help I was able to find the first few.
I kept reading about morels, and even looked at a variety of pictures of them to help my brain get a feel for what we were looking for. The spring I finally had my breakthrough, I had been walking all over the farm for nearly two hours and was just about to give up. I leaned against a tree to rest for a moment and all of a sudden realized I was looking right at one! I picked those first few and kept searching the area, finding more and more. When I thought I’d found them all I went home excited to show my husband. We went out as much as we could that month, returning to my original spot and then finding some new ones. That season’s total was somewhere around 300! Now we look forward to each season, to get out together for a fun farm date.
Phenology is the “science of appearances.” When I successfully find some morels, I try to make mental notes about the timing. It’s the season right now and the dogwoods have just started to bloom and asparagus spears are shooting up. The blackberries are just starting to leaf out and fiddleheads are unfurling from the cool moist soil. When the blackberries bloom that signals the end of our season. Although there may be a few more to be found, it becomes too difficult to look, and it’s always good to leave some to spore for future harvests.
We hear of different areas where others find their morels, but we tend to look around Sycamore trees the most. Partly because Sycamores are so easy to spot. We’ve had the most luck finding these elusive mushrooms in their leaf litter.
In the beginning of the season the mushrooms are small, but as the ground warms up, they become larger and lighter in color. We leave the really small ones, either to grow or spore. It can be really exciting to find one as big as your hand, and in my mushroom groups I’ve seen some huge ones that have been found.
I truly enjoy foraging, but it doesn’t come without risks. I try to be on the lookout for snakes. Then there are ticks and chiggers. In spite of that, I don’t let them keep me from getting outside and enjoying nature. I need the exercise, for sure, and the beauty of nature blesses me in ways that elude description. I wear tall boots, long sleeves, and a hat. When we get home we immediately take a shower and scrub. We sure don’t want any of those tick diseases!
Morels freeze really well. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for several days, but if we aren’t going to use them that quickly, I clean them in cool water, drain well, and pack them into plastic freezer bags. I use them throughout the year in many different dishes and they’re delicious. This year, I’d like to try dehydrating some, and possibly even making some mushroom powder.
Morels are highly sought after and can sell for as much as $40-80/pound. There are people who sell their bounty to restaurants for a tidy sum. They’re definitely worth the time we spend hunting! Anything I can grow or forage saves on our grocery bill and contributes to our health. Plus, it’s all organic in the truest sense of the word!
The hunt is definitely part of the fun! It’s similar to an Easter egg hunt, even with similar timing. If you’re new to mushrooms, then I urge you to get at least one guidebook. My favorite is Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms. Morels are very distinctive, but some mushrooms have poisonous lookalikes. Even though a mushroom is considered “safe,” you could still have an allergic reaction to it, so enter into mushroom hunting with some education and caution.
Another great way to learn more about mushrooms is to join related Facebook groups. Through other enthusiasts you’ll learn how to find, cook, and preserve them. With a little luck, you’ll have your own pictures to share.