Keith D – Director of F&B
The anticipation for the first morels of the year is as high as any sports championship, at least for a forager. After being cooped up all winter, and the last hunt some 4 or 5 months ago, the adrenaline really begins to flow as the season approaches. Morels are the first edible mushroom of the season. I have been checking the web using a few of the seasonal morel maps that let you know where other foragers are finding morels. Click here for more info: http://morelhunters.com/index.php/
The maps helps, but what is happening in my area can be completely different. I have to consider the factors for this year. Temperature; the Maryland winter was mild, and spring appeared to come a little earlier this year. So the morels have the potential to be on the early side, but ultimately the ground temperature needs to be in the low 50’s for the morels to start to sprout. Moisture; we have had a good base of moisture, from the early year snows to some good rain, averaging slightly higher rainfall year to date. But the issue is that the last 2 weeks, we only received a few light rains, so the ground is dry. I saw today that there is a fire weather warning, which is never good when looking for mushrooms, since high moisture is key. Nature’s signs; what are the woods telling me? I look for the trees start to bloom, and when the dogwood and apple trees bloom, it is time to go and walk.
After a few warm and beautiful days, I had to go out and walk and look for myself. There are several types of morels, with blacks (Morchella elata) coming early and yellows (Morchella esculenta) later in the season. And the season… it typically is about 3 weeks, but can be as short as 2 weeks and last as long as a month. It all depends upon the temperature and moisture factors.
So when I go out in search of morels, where do I go and where do I Iook? Morels actually can grow just about everywhere, from your back yard to the forest. I am lucky that there are plenty of places that I can go walk in the woods, but the where to look is much tougher. I keep a log of when and where I find the morels, and even draw maps of certain areas, since past honey holes usually keep producing. I start with finding an area that has the correct plants and trees that morels like. Yes, morels are symbiotic with certain plants, and in Maryland, they usually grow around Tulip Poplars and mixed hard woods. In New York where I used to live, it was near pine, so you need to look for patterns in your area which helps to narrow down the amount of miles you may need to walk. Also, I look for ground cover. Too little means probably dry soil and not enough light. Too much cover and you won’t find the mushrooms. In dryer years, low lands near small creeks are prime spots, with skunk cabbage, Jack in the pulpit, wild violets, and may apple plants (podophyllum) a few of the plants that grow in good areas. So yes, having knowledge of the plants that grow in your area, especially trees are important.
The first walk of the season can be 30 minutes, or take all day if time allows. I usually know within 5 minutes if the day will be fruitful. And this year was just like that. I took my son who is 11 out with me so we could cover more ground, and we were rewarded within 3 minutes of walking with a medium morel poking out from under a leaf. Yes, the season is here! But it is early yet, with the prime time here in Maryland the last week of April and the first week of May. We walked this are near a small stream and found about 40 morels, mostly small ones but still delicious. And then we moved to my next spot, and found nothing, and another spot, and again found nothing. See, that is the way it is with foraging for mushrooms, it is hit and miss. The last two spots were dryer that the first, so that is my story that I am sticking to. All in all, we walked just under 2 hours, 6000 steps according to my Fitbit, and had a wonderful father-son day. On the way driving home, we stopped by an open farm field and watch a wild turkey strutting, trying to find a mate.
It must be said that even though these mushrooms look unique, there is a close look alike that is highly toxic. That is the way it is with most species of mushrooms. If you know what to look for, it’s not an issue, but if you haven’t been trained, it could end badly. Never eat something that you “think” is good; you need to be 100% sure. As I’ll talk about in later issues, there are plenty of fun ways to learn the art of mushrooming.
Yes, the season is here; time to look for morels, so more adventures to come….