As a native of the great state of Illinois, one of my favorite things to do late April and early May is hunt the coveted Morel mushroom. For those of you from parts of the U.S that don’t have enough moisture to grow this delicacy, I am so sorry but you are missing on one of the best things you will ever put in your mouth. Battered and deep fried, it makes me sad that I can only enjoy these for a 3 week period a year, if I’m lucky.
For those of you who have been deprived of searching for the great immobile fungi, here are some tips for success so that when you do get the opportunity to go, you act like a professional that is ready to find some Morels.
- Know what a Morel is. Some fungi that you will run across on your hunt are not safe to eat, so please know what a Morel looks like before you start. The internet has graciously provided me with some pictures of Morels to give you an idea of what to search for.
- Know where to look for a Morel. Now this is not a 100% guarantee, you always have that trick mushroom that grows somewhere unexpected, but a good place to start looking for these is near dead and dying elm trees. If it is just started to shed its bark, your odds of finding a yellow morel is better than they were when you were wandering aimlessly through the timber looking at the ground.
- Know when to look for Morels. Mushrooms are a fungus, and like most fungi, like moisture. If you haven’t had rain in weeks, the chances of you finding a mushroom are slim, but if it rained the night before, now is the time to put your boots on and get to looking for those Morels!
- Know what poison ivy looks like. Hiking through the timber is great, until someone grabs a little tree to keep themselves from falling and ends up itchy, swollen, and covered in red bumps. The general rule of thumb is “leaves of three, let it be, leaves of five, let it thrive” You may look at that and ask what, but really it just means don’t’ touch plants you don’t know. These next few pictures are ones you should definitely make sure to avoid, especially if you are looking for toilet paper after answering a call to nature in the woods.
- Look down when you are walking. I can’t tell you how easy it is to be gawking at some neat bird or tree and just walk right over, or even worse, ON a little Morel family.
- Carry a walking stick, especially if coordination is hard. If you are anything like me, a hike in the timber can be a challenge looking where you are going, but if you are following #5, it is almost impossible. There is no shame in carrying a walking stick, and your comrades will be jealous when you can move leaves and sticks out the way so you aren’t constantly bending over looking for mushrooms.
- Don’t take a bag! It is bad luck to take a bag the first time you go mushroom hunting. If you find more than you can carry call your Mom and have her bring you out a bread bag to put them in, but never start with one. It will scare those immobile fungi right out of your timber. Every time.
- Take a friend. Enjoying the outdoors alone can be refreshing, but it is also really nice to have someone to talk to, and to look over places with a different set of eyes. Not saying this would be everyone’s cup of tea, but boys I think that mushroom hunting would be a great date! (Maybe not a first date though, taking someone out into the woods alone seems a little sketchy…)
- Don’t get discouraged. Even someone with lots of experience mushroom hunting can come up empty handed. Just keep with it, I promise if you look long and hard enough, you will be able to find one somewhere, just maybe not the first time you are out. When you do find it, it will be worth it!
So, that’s all there is to it. A good eye, a little luck, some superstition, and friends are all you need to be a successful Morel hunter, and when you find more than you can eat, call me up. I’d be more than happy to take some off your hands for you.