Morel mushroom hunting is a springtime ritual that has been handed down, in my family, for generations. It can be a great outing for the whole family. With the exception of a few areas, such as the desert and southern coastal regions, morels are found in most parts of the United States. Here are a few of my morel hunting tips, and a delicious recipe that I hope you enjoy.
The growing season for morels depends on geographical location. The typical season could start in early-April and extend as late as mid-June. Many factors come into play in all geographical areas, like ground temperatures, moisture levels in the ground and air temperature. Daytime temperatures in the 60- to 70-degree range tend to be ideal for morels.
The weather is the key contributing factor to the length of the season and the grand entrance of the morels. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too wet, not too dry. They are somewhat finicky. The soil temperature is typically in the 50- to 60-degree range, but some ‘shroom hunters have found morels after a light frost or even after a late-spring snowfall. Many think the explanation for this phenomenon is the morels had already broken through the soil before the snowfall.
Many seasoned morel hunters have favorite spots for seeking out their treasures. Most have their opinions of tree species or a particular terrain where these little gems can be found. Some mushroom maniacs swear that elm trees are where to locate and search out morels; others are of the belief that ash trees hold the gold. But many say old apple orchards, poplar trees or pine trees, so tree identification would be very beneficial for you to learn. In fact, It’s important to be able to identify the trees by their bark, as most trees have not leafed out completely in early spring. Most state conservation sites are helpful in regard to tree identification, and may have books or pamphlets available that you could take to the woods with you.
Hunting morels requires the least amount of gear of any hunting. All you really need is a bag for gathering the springtime gems. One of the best containers to use is an onion bag. This allows air to the harvested ‘shrooms and hopefully some of the little bugs will jump ship through the holes in the bag. Others claim the spores may fall through, replenishing the woods for next year’s crop.
As with most anything in life that is worthwhile, there are obstacles to overcome. When morel hunting, the main barrier is very small, but extremely difficult to get around. That would be ticks. The following is a recipe that I have found to work well against the pesky critters:
Ticks be gone
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil
1 cup water
1 tablespoon eucalyptus oil
Put this mixture in a spray bottle and spray on your clothing. This is also a good tick repellant for your pets, if you take them along for the hunt.
If you are fortunate enough to find some of these jewels, when harvesting, many believe you should pinch the morel right at ground level. This alleviates the dirt from the roots making a mess on the others in the bag. Some believe that by leaving the roots, it assures that patch will reproduce the following year.
Proper cleaning and care of the morels once you have harvested them is important in maintaining their quality and integrity for preparation. Rinse them thoroughly with cold water to remove dirt and the little bugs that are common in morels. Some suggest it’s easier to get the bugs off by slicing the morels in half, lengthwise. If the bugs are a little stubborn about leaving the folds of the mushroom, soak them in a cold water salt bath for 30 to 60 minutes. After the salt bath, lay them out on paper towels, with paper towels separating the layers.
There are many, many ways to prepare and cook this special springtime favorite. The following is a recipe that is at the top of most ‘shroomers’ list:
Fried morel mushrooms
1 pound morel mushrooms
1/2 cup oil for frying
3/4 cup milk
1 ( 4-ounce) packet saltine crackers, finely crushed
Salt and black pepper to taste.
Directions: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Beat the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Coat the mushrooms in the egg and milk mixture, then roll them in the cracker crumbs. Place the coated mushrooms in the heated oil. Cook the mushrooms until they are golden brown on the bottom and then flip them over. Remove them from the pan to drain on a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
No matter how you cook them up, morels are a tasty springtime treat. And the hunt makes for a great outdoor adventure to add to your family traditions.