Mushroom hunting is one of those great activities that blends mental and physical exercise, with the bonus of returning incredibly satisfying results. It’s a great way to get outdoors in spring, but the flavor of the catch is the best reward. Morels are the most-coveted specimen among North American mushroom hunters. They’re meaty, nutty and aromatic. Morels are a good target for newbie wild food foragers because they’re easy to identify and safe to eat. Although they’re not necessarily easy to find in the wild, morels are very difficult to grow, so if you don’t want to pay supermarket prices—up to $30 for a single ounce!—hunting them is your best option. Here are a few tips for finding a tasty crop. Believe me, you’ll need ’em; no one who knows where morels abound is going to share their secrets!
Mushroom Hunting Tips
• Morels can be found all over North America in spring. When morel hunting, it’s important to go slow, crouch low and look ahead for little cones popping up from the ground.
• Ideal temperatures for mushrooms to grow range from 60 to 80 degrees. When new wildflowers such as phlox, violets and wild strawberries are appearing, the time is right.
• Morels are spongy and usually between 1 and 5 inches tall—about the size of your thumb. The stems and caps are hollow.
• Morels come in a range of colors, from white and yellow to black and gray. Black morels appear first and are often found in hardwood forests. Blond and tan mushrooms usually follow, and the gray versions (some say the tastiest) don’t show up until summer.
• Look for areas where trees are beginning to bud and unfiltered sunlight is warming the ground. Blond morels sometimes grow around dying trees, especially elm, fir, ash and apple.
• “Burn morels” can be found in the sites of previous fires, as well as dying orchards, logged areas, flooded plains and bulldozed areas. Connie Green and Sarah Scott, authors of The Wild Table, believe “disaster makes them feel like fruiting.”
• Once you find a morel, cut it just beneath the conical top, then look nearby. The spores that created it will likely have blown around the same area. And check there again next spring!
• Collect morels in a mesh bag, which allows the mushroom spores to fall back to the ground and produce more yummy mushrooms in the future.
Tips for Eating Morels
• Never eat raw morels, which contain a dangerous compound that cooking eliminates. Morels can be sautéed, roasted, grilled and added to cooking liquids such as soup stock.
• Meaty morels pair perfectly with rich foods such as steak, cheese, poached eggs, salmon, beef stock, cream and unsweetened cocoa. Butter and morels is a simple, blissful combo.
• Tap the cut end of morels against a surface to check for worms. If worms fall out, place morels on a pan in the freezer for 15 minutes; the worms will crawl out, ready to be discarded.
• According to the smart phone app “What to Drink With What You Eat,” the best companion for morels is pinot noir.
For a simple way to enjoy your fresh-found morels, check out this recipe for basket-grilled morels.