Seasons greetings everyone! It’s that special time of year where warm, wet weather brings forth tasty morel mushrooms! Morels are one of the most sought after mushroom varieties by foragers worldwide including the US, much of Europe, Turkey, China, India and Pakistan. Morels are very picky about their growing conditions and are difficult to cultivate which only adds to their desirability.
Morels are fairly easy to identify by their trademark honey comb texture. Though there are false morels(gyromitra esculenta), they really look very little like true morels. If you’re really not sure, then cut the mushroom in half. True morels are completely hollow from the base of the stalk to the tip of the cap. As always, don’t munch on a hunch. While false morels look very different from regular morels, they trick enough people a year to cause several cases of liver damage and kidney failure.
Morels are a more subtle culinary treat than some other popular mushrooms. Their flavor is often described as being earthy or nutty in taste. To enhance the flavor a bit, many people string them like a festive garland and leave them to dry. Dried morels can last for about 6 months. When it’s time to taste them, make sure they are cooked! Raw morels can make your stomach upset due to a mild toxin in them that is destroyed by cooking. Though the flavor is less pronounced than lions mane or chicken of the woods, their flavor is known for making spirits bright.
If you are planning on searching for these mycological treasures this spring, here’s a few tips!
Mind the Temperature
Morels are most likely to grow when the daytime air temperature is around 70° and the nighttime air is about 40° for at least 4 nights in a row with a ground temperature of between 40° and 50°. So here on the east coast of the US, it’s best to go looking from March to early May. A simple soil thermometer(about $10 from a hardware store) is a great tool for a would be morel forager.
Watch the Forecast
Once you know you’re in range temperature wise, then it’s time to keep a look out for rain. The ideal hunting time is a clear day after about 2 days of rain. After a warm rain softens the soil, then it’s joy to the world, morels have come!
Search for Soft Soil
Morels grow best in softened soil, which make them pop up in places you may not expect. After a rain they may be found on sunny hillsides, burns sites, flood sites, or creek beds. They also require a subsoil food source so near rotting tree roots is a promising spot. Some lucky folks have even found them in freshly turned soil for flower beds in their own yard.
While it’s hard to tell in many pictures, morels are generally not very big. I’ve seen a few monster morels, but most are only about a fingerlength tall. Getting in the habit of looking down and gently moving leaves and other forest debris will give you a better chance of success.
If you found these tips helpful, then get outside and enjoy the hap-happiest season of all! Merry Foraging!