The Elusive Morel Mushroom
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
A small chunk of most springs during my early childhood consisted of mushroom "hunting" with my dad. Though I never had the eye to spot them and definitely not the patience to hunt long, I marveled at how many my dad found each year. This still holds true today. He seems to know exactly where they will pop up each spring and loves to brag about how many more he found in comparison to Colton and I. It is an ongoing competition that I doubt we'll ever win. Nevertheless, mushroom hunting is a fun addition anyone can add to hiking through the woods- so I thought it would be a great topic to share!
What Do Morel Mushrooms Look Like?
If you're from my area, I probably don't need to tell you this. Eating and searching for the mushroom seems to be a popular activity for most people nearby.
Based on the image below, you can see that morels can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Ranging from gray to brown to yellow in color, this fungi is known for its honeycomb appearance. The top section or 'cap' of the mushroom contains an imperfect pattern of pits and ridges- that kind of reminds me of the brain. Ha!
The mushrooms can be as small as the tip of your finger or grow to be larger than your hand.
The color of the mushroom is dependent upon multiple factors such as the age of the mushroom and/or the nutrients found in the soil it grew in.
The mushrooms are commonly described as feeling firm and spongy while older ones can be more dry or slimy. They are pretty fragile, so be careful not to squish them in a pocket or stack too many into a single bag.
Morel mushrooms are hollow from the cap through the stem. This can be a big giveaway when harvesting non-morel mushrooms. There are some similar species of fungi that appear to be morels, but do have a hollow body.
When & Where To Find Morels:
This is kind of a gross point to make, but just like fungi that can grow in and on the human body, morel mushrooms prefer a warm and moist environment.
In Northeast Ohio, my Dad has taught me prime mushroom hunting dates are mid/late April-early May.
From the research I've done, the mushrooms grow best when the ground starts to warm. This is commonly when daytime temperatures start to hover around 60 degrees. Ideal temperature of the ground should exceed 50 degrees.
Morels are commonly found near Ash, Elm, and Oak Trees. In my experience hunting them, where I find one there's usually more. Though the mushroom is never guaranteed to grow in the same area each year there is a spot in our family woods that rarely let us down when spring comes.
This is the smallest morel I've ever seen. Colton found it this year and made me play 'hot and cold' until I finally spotted it. So cute!
What To Do After Picking:
The spores found in morels are too small to see. I've heard it encouraged to carry a mesh bag when collecting the mushrooms, so spores can be scattered over the ground as you walk.
When I was younger, my dad would keep his collection in the refrigerator in a Tupperware container filled with water for a few days. He thought the spores would naturally release in the water. After he cleaned and cooked them, he would take the water from their container and spread it over the mulch near his house. Although the first morel I ever found came up from my parent's mulch- I don't recommend this. Keeping the mushrooms in water for an extended amount of time lessens the natural flavors and makes them soggy.
It is best to keep the morels refrigerated in an open container prior to consumption and eaten within a few days. Keep the mushrooms dry until ready to eat.
If you've waited too long, the morels can become dry. To fix this, you can try to rehydrate them with a little water. This has never been a problem in my family- we don't have much patience when it comes to eating our precious finds!
After clearing the morels of visible dirt, it is suggested to soak the mushrooms in warm, salt water for about 5 minutes. This will get rid the mushrooms of any microscopic critters that have called morels home.
After this step, lightly pat the mushrooms dry.
Cooking morel mushrooms is a necessity. They contain a mildly toxic substance while raw which can cause stomach upset and cramping. Cooking the mushrooms take care of that.
How To Cook:
I am no expert in this topic and I will not claim to be. While I'm referring to the cooking of morels specifically, it could be true for cooking in general.
Like most things God made, I believe they taste good with little effort. After cutting the mushrooms in half (stems are edible), my dad will roll them around in flour before placing them in a frying pan with melted butter.
Colton and I have gotten into the habit of melting butter in a frying pan as well, but seasoning them with salt and pepper. We usually eat them by themselves, but this year we added them on top of a loaf of bread from Longhorn takeout and we both really enjoyed it. We all have to mix things up during this corona virus quarantine!
Morels are frequently described as having an earthly, nutty flavor. As someone who naturally likes mushrooms, I was never hesitant to try them. If you're someone that doesn't usually like mushrooms, I encourage you to take the leap! They're unlike any other mushroom I've tasted and have a flavor of their own. I look forward to cooking them up every year!
Nutrients found within the mushrooms are dependent upon the environment and soil they are grown in. From what I've read, natural morels are high in iron, copper, phosphorus, vitamin D, niacin, and zinc.
What's The Big Deal?
Not only are hunting for these mushrooms a fun outdoor activity, they are a delicacy all over the world!
While I did see there are kits you can buy to attempt to grow them, I also heard the process is difficult and the end product just isn't comparable to the real thing.
Supposedly you can buy morels at farmer's markets or find them at high-end restaurants. Since I've never seen them listed on menus and don't usually frequent farmer's markets, I took to Google. In reading, I heard that fresh morels can cost 30-90 dollars per pound when fresh while dried can be in the hundreds!
Although mushroom hunting can seem like a simple task, frequently it requires trekking through the woods and that can present some challenge.
Colton and I will hunt for hours and sometimes get so focused we lose track of each other.
I'm going to finish up by sharing some suggestions and go-to items to have on hand while hunting and gathering:
(get your own or browse these products by clicking on their names)
Emergency Survival Tool Set (image below) I think something like this is good to have on hand whenever you're outdoors. You never know what's going to happen, so I always go prepared!
Please remember to get permission from land owners prior to scouting their property for the mushrooms!
If hunting by yourself- always tell someone else where you're headed and when you plan to return.
Good luck and happy mushroom hunting!