morel mushroom

Ready to get your hunt on? When the threat of the last frost has passed and temperatures warm up, the search is on for edible wild mushrooms and none more so than the much-desired morel mushrooms. With only a small window of time once a year for gathering morels, newbie and pro shroomers alike scour the country for the coveted fungi come springtime.

The first time I saw a morel mushroom I thought it looked like some sort of alien life form. And they do with their conical sponge-like caps full of ridges and wrinkles. At the very least I figured they’d cause some sort of serious hallucination when eaten. Instead, they taste like buttery deliciousness.

Scavenging gray, black, yellow or reddish morel mushrooms can turn into the ultimate flavor reward. Try these tips for hunting these favorite fungi.

Where to Look

Morels tend to pop up in wooded, moist areas that have a lot of foliage on the ground. But really they could grow anywhere, so keep your eyes open whenever you go on a walk, head to the lake or just go outside. They could even be in your own backyard!

When you go scavenging for morels, walk slowly and scan each area before moving onto the next. They tend to crop up near cedar, maple and elm trees. Make sure to check dead, felled trees as morel mushrooms thrive off of the decay.

If you’re lucky enough to spot a morel, check the area for others. They almost always grow near each other, and finding one could lead to an entire treasure trove. When you find one, get on the ground to change your point of view. Scan the ground horizontally and you could spot a few morels that you otherwise might have missed poking up through the leaves.

What to Avoid

Watch out for mushrooms that try to take on the morel persona. Several species of false morels exist that can be poisonous if consumed. True morels contain a hollow stem. Cut your mushrooms lengthwise to check. False morels tend to be denser with “cottony” insides. The caps of false morels also tend to look more wrinkled. The caps of true morels also have wrinkles, but they contain more pits and ridges and more closely resemble a sponge than a brain. If you’re hunting morels for the first time, study images beforehand to make sure you know what they look like.

How to Eat Your Shrooms

Always cook your morels! Raw morels contain an enzyme that can cause stomach and intestinal pain. Before cooking, rinse your freshly-found mushrooms with cold water to remove loose dirt. Soaking them in a solution of water and salt for 30 minutes will help remove any critters. Cutting your morels in half lengthwise before soaking can also help rid them of bugs and worms.

You can sauté, roast or grill morels. They pair well with heavier foods like meats, cheese and crackers, butter, cream and, of course, a glass of red wine. Simply sautéing them with organic butter, and then adding some shallots and garlic creates a decadent, savory treat.

For more morel hunting tips, check out Morels.com, Morel Mania and The Great Morel.

image: tonx

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson