This past week found me suddenly traveling across the country to visit my childhood home in Michigan in order to care for my mother. On my first morning there, the air was warm and the sun shone brightly. Something about it just felt like spring mushroom hunting weather. I knew we had a few hours before hospital visiting hours so I convinced my brother and father to go morel mushroom hunting.
Fortunately, we found a bountiful supply of mushrooms on our first hunt – a good 30 or so. When we eventually made it to the hospital, my mother even more determined to come home quickly. Morels are a delicacy and highly valued in my family. You don’t pass up the chance for a steak dinner with morels, even if that means tracking down doctors to get your release papers signed.
Morels are such an amazing fungi. They are difficult to cultivate which is why you rarely find them on store shelves. Around Mother’s Day, morels begin to appear in Michigan. The mushrooms are typically found in moist, shaded environments often around dead elm trees, maple trees or apple trees. I haven’t studied them to understand why this is (and every mushroom hunter has their own philosophy on where to find them) but we’ve found this guidance to be true.
The mushrooms are a single piece, with a stem rising up to form the honeycomb patterned cap. When looking from the bottom of the stem, you will see they are hollow on the inside. You’ll usually find that bugs love all the nooks and crannies inside morels, so a thorough washing is a must.
Unlike store-bought mushrooms, morels should not be eaten raw (due to toxin content which is reduced during cooking). My mother slices them in half then soaks in a bowl of cold water. Dirt and debris will fall to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to drain and repeat. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days but are best eaten soon after picking. We typically toss them lightly in flour, then fry in butter. The edges become crisp and the inside a tender, almost creamy, consistency with a light earthy flavor.
Since there are sometimes ‘fake morels’ and other varieties of inedible mushrooms, you should never ever eat any mushrooms without first consulting with a local mushroom expert. I cannot stress this enough.
In the following photo, you’ll see these two mushrooms stand out easily against the green grass. In most cases, they hide amongst brown leaves and bits of tree bark, making it much more difficult to find. If the ground is covered in a thick layer of leaves, you may need to brush them aside to find morels laying on their sides underneath.
My brother admitted that he had never found a morel mushroom before, which I found odd given how many he’s likely eaten. In retrospect, I was the one called ‘nature boy’ while growing up and was always out wandering the farm in search of interesting specimens. I guess he never participated in the mushroom hunting back then, but he certainly enjoyed it this time.
My brother is competitive and after finding the first few, he became much more intrigued by the hunt. Here he is walking home with his bag of mushrooms:
My father also enjoyed the hunt and told stories of morel mushrooms past. His favorite story involves finding mushrooms nearly 8 inches in height. It reminded me of fishermen with tall tales of the fish which got away. However, I can vouch for him this time. I do remember finding very tall morels in the past but it seems to change each year based on weather and other conditions. This year, most of them were four inches in height or smaller.
Unfortunately, our hunt yielded my father only a few mushrooms, like the one he is proudly displaying below:
While many mushroom hunters travel around to find the best mushroom picking spots, we are content to hunt only on our own land. We’ve found several good locations that yield enough mushrooms for ‘ a good mess’, as my mother likes to say.
Over the past week, we’ve found over 70 mushrooms and I think there remains another good week or two in the season. About 3.5 pounds found, in total. One local market was selling morels for $35 per pound but I’ve heard some restaurants will pay up to $50 per pound. For the fun we had and for the joy it brought us all, I’m not sure we would ever sell our mushrooms, no matter the price.
Anyone finding morels where you live?
Morel mushroom recipes from other food blogs:
Sauteed Morel Mushrooms with Fava Beans – Apple Pie, Patis, & Pate
Veal Chops with Morel Mushrooms – Sunday Nite Dinner
Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup – Simply Recipes
Follow-up: Thank you for everyone’s thoughts, prayers and kind words this past week. I truly appreciate each and every one of them. Fortunately, my mother is doing just fine now. I’m positive that the mushrooms helped her to heal :-)