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Morels. What can I say about these adorable, delicious, fun guys (get it???)? Hunting for morel mushrooms is easily one of my favorite ways to get outside in the Spring. If you’re new to foraging, or could up your morel-hunting game, I’ve compiled a complete post with my favorite tips and tricks.
Morels are a great beginner’s mushroom as there’s only one look-alike and it’s super easy to tell the difference. They’re also fairly simple to find (they follow basic rules) and they’re extremely versatile in the kitchen.
In fact, they are so prized by professional and home chefs alike, they sell for $20/pound in the grocery store, and I’ve even seen locals on Facebook offer $50 per pound!
They’re extremely prolific and can be found in a huge territory in the US from late March through May. The best part? They follow certain rules that make them easier to find!
Where to Find Morels
Morels only grow on the decaying wood of ash, aspen, elm, sycamore, tulip poplar and oak trees (although they occasionally grow on apple wood, cottonwood and others). Simply walking through the woods searching for morels is therapeutic, but if you’re out on a mission focus on locating the trees that morels like.
If you find some, make a note of the trees around the morels – chances are you’ll find more morels under similar trees in the same forest.
They need a certain amount of warmth – soil temperatures of about 50 degrees – so early in the season look for them on South-facing slopes in fairly open areas. As the days grow warmer, however, they’ll begin to grow on North-facing slopes as well.
There’s an old-wive’s tail that the morels come out when the oak leaves are the size of mouse ears, so if all else fails, you can use that as your guide!
Walk slowly and scan the ground, morels can often hide under leaf litter, and you don’t want to stomp them to death. When you get to an area you think would be a good morel-producing area (the right trees, humidity, etc.) squat down and scan the ground around you. Once you find one, remain still and scan around again – where there was hospitable conditions and a morel spore, there will usually be more!
Look for humid places. Morels love moisture, but do best in well drained soils. A low, humid hill with well-drained soil is key. A week of 50 degree nights and a bought of rain are an excellent combination for morel-hunting.
Usually early in the morel-season they tend to be black but the gray, white and yellow ones appearing later in the season. They can be any size from the size of a finger to a soda can without it affecting their taste.
High-Tech Morel Hunting
If you’re techy and want to take your morel hunting to the next level, there are dozens of free, online satellite imaging sources that can help you narrow down your location.
Look into sites like QGIS, GeoPlatform, Data.gov, Landsat.gov, and even the WebSoilSurvey. Through these sites, you can zoom in on the area you’re looking to hunt, and filter the data by soil type (look for sandy or loamy as it drains well) or even tree species. Also, morels have been spotted in areas ravaged by fire, so you can look for recently burnt forest as well.
Save Some For Later
A morel’s life-cycle is 5 years – which means they need 5 years of ideal growing conditions before they’ll release their spores and create more morels. Over-hunting has led to a shortage of wild morels, and they are notoriously difficult to cultivate.
When out hunting for morels, don’t collect all that you find. The ones that you do collect, give them a good shake before you pack them away, or pack them in mesh bags to release as much of their spores as possible. If you picked on in it’s 5th year – or a reproductive year – you’ll want to spread as much of the spores as you can to ensure more morels for next year!
Like I mentioned above, there is only one look-alike – or false morel – and it is super easy to tell the difference. Both morels and false morels have wrinkly caps, but the stems of false morels are not hollow. These false morels are TOXIC – do not eat.
See below for a picture of false morels. The tops look mushy, not wrinkly, but if you have any doubt at all, cut it open. The stems of false morels are solid, not hollow.
How to Cook Morels
As with most mushrooms, you need to thoroughly rinse them to remove any dirt, debris, or critters living inside. I personally slice them in half length-wise and soak them in cold water for up to an hour.
Morels are extremely versatile. That’s why they are so popular with chefs. They can be:
- sauteed simply in butter,
- diced and scrambled with eggs,
- diced and added to a quiche,
- battered and deep fried
- dehydrate them for future use (do not wash beforehand)