Absolutely Everything You Need To Know About Morel Mushrooms
What are Morel Mushrooms?
Hang tight, as I am writing this blog on morel mushrooms I will spill the beans on how you can fill a cooler and then some! It all depends on how much time and travel you are willing to commit during the morel mushroom hunting season. But, even if you are on a limited time, you can still do well in your own neck of the woods. Morels are wild edible mushrooms that look like a sponge and taste like filet mignon! The rich, earthy, nutty flavor is undeniable. Many believe that morel is in fact the finest delicacy in the outdoor world, but unfortunately can be difficult to find.
The Art Of Hunting Morel Mushrooms
What is a morel and how to find them? You have to understand morels in order to become a much better hunter.
When I started hunting for morel mushrooms, I was a ground hunter. This hunting involves a lot of hiking to cover a lot of land, to only come out with a few morels. Treating them like gold nuggets, I could not wait to get home, cook my morels in butter, crawl into my favorite chair and enjoy every bite. As the time went on, I became addicted to learning more about morel mushrooms, as a result I became a tree hunter. Morel mushroom mycelium has a strong symbiotic relationship with certain trees. Like an American Elm tree for instance, morel mycelium attaches itself to the roots of a live elm. The roots provide the food for the mycelium, keeping it fed and happy. The year that that elm tree dies from the Dutch Elm disease, morel mycelium loses it’s food source and produces the fruit, which is the morel mushrooms, to spread the spores. Because of this symbiotic relationship American Elm tree became one of my favorite targets. Morels would typically grow within 12 feet of the tree.
Other trees have to be alive to produce morels, like the Ash or Sycamore. This is where I will tell you that I am not a scientist or a mycologist, just a really good woodsman. So I will give you my theory on morel mushrooms growing under live ash and sycamores, and it is not backed by years of extensive research in a lab, but years of experience in the woods and many many skillet fulls of morels. Trees and mushroom mycelium are always trading nutrients and minerals helping each other out. Different trees have different abilities. As the morel mushroom fungi network approaches a live Ash or a Sycamore, the trees produce some sort of anti fungal agent to prevent morel mycelium to attach itself to the trees’ roots and feed. The mycelium hits this anti fungal wall and produces morels out of survival. I have hunted morel mushrooms in 16 different states, one of my favorite states to hunt has been Michigan, which is loaded with stands of ash trees. Unfortunately it saddens me to say that due to the ash bore disease 95 % of the ash trees have died. And dead ash trees typically do not produce morels. The good news is, with ash trees being completely out of the picture I started finding morels under a few other trees in the same areas that were dominant with morel mushroom production under ash. I have been finding morel mushrooms under maple and oaks. Other decent producers for me have been large tulip poplars and apple trees. One thing is for sure, every state and every area varies. You have to adapt quickly to which tree is the best producer in the area that you are hunting and target those trees.
Planning The Morel Hunting Season
I start my planning in mid winter. I study topographical maps of state land and learn every little road around the area that I plan on hunting. I do this in multiple states, just in case one state is not getting as much rain. I guess you can say I am a weather chaser. Mushrooms need moisture to grow. Quick story for you- one of my friends, Neil Cox, used to be known for always coming out with bags filled with morels in Southern Indiana, even on the years of extreme drought. His trick was.. he simply walked the creek and river beds with his kids’ water bucket and watered the elm, ash and poplar trees that are near by every 3 to 4 days. And when hunters would whine about how dry it is and how bad this mushroom season is, he would post pictures on morel boards of his huge morel mushroom hauls. Mushrooms simply need moisture. I have done a number of seminars on hunting morels, occasionally someone tells me that they have morels growing in their yard. I tell them to water them and let them grow! Morel mushrooms mature after the 10th day of it’s life. You can watch videos on YouTube of Morel life cycle.. from day 1 it’s a baby gray morel to day 14 it is a mature giant yellow morel. So, plan your season ahead of time, but be prepared to change spots on the go. Watch the rain patterns in spring prior to your hunts. When you are on a hunt, if you discover tracks of another hunter beating you to the bounty, relocate at once.
When I go mushroom hunting for morels I start early morning and I carry a backpack with 4 mushroom hunting bags, water, a few apples, a granola bar and some mints that I use for a boost of energy as needed to climb big hills.
I love using My Lucky Shrooming Bags. They are made out of tough, tear resistant scuba mesh, which works great, considering I’m running through the woods. The bag protects the precious morel mushrooms. It hangs flat against the body, until I start filling it with morels and as it fills and opens up – it has a solid bottom feature which works great for those fragile morel mushrooms not grating through the bottom. It protects them as they are staying fresh, being able to breathe and still spreading the spores. Morel spores are microscopic, every mature morel has over a hundred thousand spores. And if you are worried that the solid bottom won’t be able to spread them, don’t be. You can hold a mature yellow morel mushroom close to a light bulb and after a few moments watch the cloud of spores go up like a tornado. This mushroom hunting bag has a very thick, comfortable and adjustable strap, so as I start filling the bag with morels it does not cut into my shoulder, and it hangs close which allows me to move fast through the woods.
When Do Morel Mushrooms Grow?
Morel mushroom hunting season in most states is pretty short, only lasting 2 or 3 weeks. When the temperature starts warming up in March, morel mushrooms begin to appear in Georgia and California. They then start to head north as the temperatures warm up in northern states. The season typically moves north about 100 miles per week on average, depending on the weather. So if you have the time and are willing to travel you can greatly prolong your morel harvesting season.
There are a number of indicators when it is time to hit the woods in search of elusive morels. I will tell you my favorite and the easiest one to use.
My favorite is – morels start to appear when the temp of the ground reaches 55 degrees.. you will start seeing a ton of yellow dandelions! The first morels to come up are the black morels (Morchella Angusticeps), although they are less common in some states, and they don’t last as long fresh as their brothers. They are always welcome in my bag! About a week later you will start seeing white dandelions, that is about the same time the gray morels ( Morchella Esculenta & Deliciosa ) start appearing. Sometimes they stay gray, and in other instances they turn into a grellow and then a yellow color, if left to mature.
Some old timers claim that morels pop from the ground to their size, as opposed to growing. We know personally that this is not true. Every season we cover baby morel mushrooms with leaves then return five days to a week later to pick the same morels that are much larger. Sometimes the weather can stunt the growth of the morel, keeping it the same size. Other times another hunter or deer find our covered morels as they are getting bigger. But if all goes well and no one finds our stash, we return to pick giants!
Many folks have stories of picking bushels of morels back in the day, they ask me why is morel mushroom hunting is so much harder now days? I believe because of the internet, the number of mushroom hunters has increased drastically. Unfortunately, lots of inexperienced hunters still use plastic bags and dig in leaves around every potential productive tree, looking for every little gray morel they can find. What they don’t realize is they crush so many patches of baby morels that are just starting to form. This is probably the biggest morel mushroom advice I can give you.. As morel season approaches, check your spots, thread lightly, taking very few steps in and around those potential morel mushroom productive trees. Pick what you want and get out carefully. Return 4 to 7 days later and you could pick more morels in that same spot! Also keep in mind- morel mushrooms do not produce spores until the tenth day of it’s life cycle, so if you are hunting your own property try to let them mature into yellows.
As I am typing this blog, I am thinking of spring & my morel mushroom hunting spots. This fever for the hunt. I have learned so much over the years & the more I learned this hobby bloomed from a passion into an addiction. It’s fun! I love taking my kids hunting for morels as well, their faces light up with joy when they find them!
True Morels and Morel look-alikes.
True morel mushrooms have very few look-alikes. Morels are always hollow inside once you cut them. One of the look-alikes is the Gyromitra aka Elephant Ear. It is solid inside once cut open. Another look-alike is a Verpa aka Cotton Foot. Instead of being hollow it has a cotton-like substance inside the foot.
This subject is very controversial. Some people eat Gyromirtas and/or Verpas with no side affects, some have eaten them and gotten very sick. We recommend to avoid them and stick to true morels.
Morels mainly divide into two groups – naturals & fire morels.
Natural morels grow in almost every state of US, although some states have very few while others are much better for hunting.
The fire morels come on the year after a massive forest fire. Fire morel hunting is extremely popular in western states of US & parts of Canada, where there are forest fires every year. I hunt the Midwest for natural morels, and only had the pleasure to hunt for fire morels one season, when the year before there was a 21,000 acre forest fire in Upper Michigan. I had an exceptional season for the natural morels that year picking over 200 pounds. And as my season came to an end I went up to Upper MI and picked over 100 pounds more out of that fire.
Those who chase fire morels keep an eye out on the fires that happen late summer or fall out west, they are the ones that produce better then spring/early summer fires.
Best way to preserve morel mushrooms –
Once you pick your morels, keep them dry and in the fridge or a cooler until you can get them to the fridge. Morels will either start to dry slowly or spoil, so it is important not to submit them in water if you are not planning to eat the morels soon. Black morels can last up to a week or a bit more in the fridge. Fresh grays and yellow morels have a longer shelf life. I typically turn my temp in the fridge to 34 degrees & they have lasted up to 4 weeks. Ideally I try to sell them, eat or process them within a few days. Keeping morel mushrooms fresh in the fridge for a while will cause them to start drying out around the edges, that’s perfectly fine. All you have to do is soak them in water for about 20 minutes, that would perk them right up, ready for cooking.
Simplest way to cook morels is slice them lengthways, salt them, coat them in flour, shake access flour off and pan fry them in half butter and half vegetable oil until light golden brown on both sides. Cool them off a bit on paper towel and enjoy!
If you plan to preserve morel mushrooms for later, you can dry them or freeze them. To freeze- I slice and give morels a quick rinse, bread them in flour and freeze them laid out on a cookie sheet, then toss the morels in the gallon freezer bag, suck the air out as I seal it. When you are ready to cook your morel mushrooms, get the frying pan ready with heated butter and oil and slip your morels right from the freezer into the skillet. That way they don’t turn mushy and rubbery on you, hold their texture pretty good.
You can dry morels in the dehydrator on very low temp not to burn them, or you can lay them out of the screen. I use a large herb drying mesh rack that holds up to 40 pounds of wild mushrooms. Once I fill the rack with morels or whatever wild mushrooms I have on hand, I turn a fan on high and that really helps drying. I typically have the fan on for 1 or 2 days, then turn it off and let them finish drying for 2 or 3 weeks. The longer the better, you want to take all the moisture out of your morels. You can store dry morel mushrooms in glass jars, paper bags or gallon plastic bag works. Once all the moisture is out of the morels, they can last forever stored in a cool dry place. When you are ready to rehydrate your morels, simply put them in a bowl of water for about 3 hours and they are ready for cooking. We also really like using milk to reconstitute morel and chanterelle mushrooms, if you do that, stick the bowl in the fridge so that milk don’t spoil. After you cook your morels, save that milk for a cream sauce or gravy.
If you have the time and are willing to travel for natural morels… the season starts down in southern states and moves north about 100 miles per week. You can follow the season on Facebook in Groups like Morchella Connection and Morel Mushroom Reports. If you just want to stay put and hunt locally where you live, then those facebook groups are beneficial as well, people post their location and photo of what they find so you can watch the season progress.
I started Morchella Connection group a few years ago, if you join the group.. give me a shout out :) Say, “Hey, Mad Russian! I read your blog on your web, now put down that vodka bottle & show us your mushroom spots.” lol
Good bunch of folks in that group, we try to keep it drama free.
Well, I am going to wrap it up for today. Best of luck to you this coming Spring! And remember..
Respect The Nature And It Will Reward You.
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