When the trees are sporting their new green leaves and the ground is warm and damp, it is spring in Minnesota and it is time to get into the woods and look for morel mushrooms. This has become one of my favorite springtime traditions. My husband Adam, introduced me to morels several years ago. I still can’t believe something that delicious had gone under my radar for so many years! Once you get a taste of morels there is no going back. They are delicious. I know many people don’t like mushrooms, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of those people would love morels! They are nothing like the button mushrooms from the grocery store that you’ve likely based your mushroom disliking status on. In a way, I would prefer you to not try morels, because once you do, you will want more. That means less for me…so now that I think about it, morels are kinda icky..
Don’t be tricked
If you aren’t easily fooled and you want to give morels a try, you simply have to get into the woods once the weather has been warm for a bit. Here in Minnesota that is usually the end of April or beginning of May. Morels grow in woodlands throughout North America. They are very easy to identify. There is a poisonous look alike known as the false morel, but it really is easy to distinguish the two. The true morel is hollow inside and the false morel is not. They also are irregularly shaped compared to a true morel. Here is a great guide to help you identify morels: http://www.myminnesotawoods.umn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/12.-YELLOW-MOREL-1.pdf
We always look for morels near dead or dying elm trees. They grow up from the forest floor. They can also be found growing near polar, ash and apple trees. When Adam and I go we carry long sticks to move wood nettle and other plants out of the way so that we can get a better view of the forest floor. Once you find one morel mushroom be sure to look more around that spot because there are likely more to be found! Break the mushroom off at the base rather than pulling it so that you don’t collect dirty mushrooms. We either put them into a mesh or paper bag, although a wooden basket would also be great. Do not use a plastic bag or else your mushrooms will turn mushy.
We also usually collect ramps aka wild leeks if we see them. They have a great onion/garlic flavor to them. They go very well cooked up along side the morels. I also like to bring my camera into the woods to take pictures of whatever catches my eye! There are many wildflowers in bloom at that time of year! Not to mention the wildlife that we encounter. Hawks, butterflies, deer, toads, if it moves, I will probably take it’s picture!
Wear the right gear
Be sure to wear long thick pants. I learned this lesson the hard way. The first year that Adam and I went into the woods morel hunting I wore leggings. Bad idea. We came into a thick patch of wood nettle. They are like stinging nettle on steroids. They were pricking/stinging me through my pants. Ouch! Thankfully, Adam carried me through that patch. My hero! Morel mushroom hunting is not for the faint of heart. If the wood nettle doesn’t deter you, the hoards of mosquitoes and wood ticks might! Don’t skimp on the bug spray! Even though I usually leave the woods itchy and with a few wood ticks, the morels are worth it! They are so fun to find! I feel like I’ve just won the lottery whenever I find a nice big morel or a large patch of them!
Time to Feast
Once we get back home with our morels it is time for a feast! Our daughters absolutely love morels as well. If we have had a good haul, we like to invite family over to share in our bounty. We give the morels a rinse, slice them up, and saute them in butter with a little salt and pepper, and sometimes throw in some wild leeks for another dimension of flavor. The morels have an amazing meaty texture and flavor. They are so savory! If we have a lot we dehydrate them and add them to various dishes throughout the year. This is enjoyable because not only am I able to enjoy that distinct morel flavor in soups and stews, but just seeing those dehydrated mushrooms enables me to relive the adventure in the woods again in my mind! Sometimes those memories are even sweeter than the experience itself!
If you have never looked for morel mushrooms before, make this year your first! Start with morels, and then learn more about other wild edible mushrooms. There are lots! Bring the kids with. My kids and I have found them at local parks just walking along a tarred path! Don’t let your fear of the unknown get in the way. If you have the desire to find them, do some research, join an online mushroom group, buy a mushroom identification book, but most importantly get into the woods and start looking! You don’t need to be a mushroom expert to identify morels. If I can do it, so can you!
Happy morel hunting!
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