By BABE WINKLEMAN
---- — Wild mushroom hunting is a rite of spring for many in this great land. While I’m not as dedicated a mushroom hunters as some, I agree that few things compare to the rush experienced when a cache of Morels suddenly pops into view.
As they’re picked, you can’t stop yourself from daydreaming about how delicious that next meal will be when served with a side of butter-fried Morels. Their flavor and wonderful texture is unmatched by any other thing, mushroom or otherwise.
As I write this, we are just about to enter the Morel season where I live. It has been a long, cold winter and conditions are now becoming favorable. What are favorable conditions? It’s when daytime high temperatures reach the 60s and stay relatively consistent; and evening low temperatures remain above 40 degrees.
After your region hits those temperatures, it’s time to go out searching for Morels (which are so coveted that they can fetch more than $20 per pound in markets!). An ideal location to investigate is along the edges of wooded south-facing hillsides. The reason for this is because prevailing winds typically deposit mushroom spores along those south-facing inclines.
IF you find such a hill... AND it has trees with a relatively open understory... AND many of those trees are elms, ash, aspens and oaks... AND several of those trees are dead and decaying... THEN you could be in Morel heaven! That is the ideal location to fill your bag with goodness.
If you’ve never harvested Morels before, I strongly encourage you to go online and get a quick education in fungus so you know what to look for. There are mushrooms like Half-Free Morels and False Morels that look a lot like the real thing — but aren’t. They can cause some intestinal discomfort if ingested. Once you know/see the difference, then Morel identification is pretty simple.
When you get out there in nature’s supermarket, you’ll find that Morels are more camouflaged than an October bowhunter. Their colors, which range from yellow to dark golden brown, blend into the leaves and debris very well, so it’s easy to walk right past a Morel without noticing it. Those new to the pursuit must train themselves in the art of spotting the telltale shape and color.
A great tip is to not look down around your feet when searching for Morels, but instead look out ahead 25-50 feet and keep your eyes scanning. Those delicacies are a lot like crappies. Where you find one, you can often find many. So when you locate the first Morel, really scour the spot and adjoining areas for more. Return to that same spot later too, because some little fledgling mushrooms might be hiding, and you can go back and find them when they grow up.
Some other pieces of Morel hunting advice are: bring along a walking stick. In addition to helping you walk around and over some terrain, the stick is nice for moving foliage out of the way to look for hidden treasures. Spray down with OFF Deep Woods insect repellent before you head out. It’ll keep the mosquitoes from ruining your outing and help protect you from ticks. Lyme disease is a real problem in so many areas of North America, and whatever you can do to prevent getting bit is well worth the effort! Also, make sure you have permission from landowners if you’re treading on private land. Finally, get yourself a mesh bag to carry all the Morels you’ll find. The mesh will allow the spores to deposit as you walk around, promoting more Morel populations in years to come.
After arriving home with your loot, reward yourself. Soak the Morels for a while in cool water to clean them and flush out any bugs that might be hiding in the contours of the mushrooms. Then slice them down the middle, fry the Morels in butter with a little salt and pepper, and brace yourself for one of the finest treats Mother Nature has to offer!
Babe Winkelman hosts ‘Good Fishing’ and ‘Outdoor Secrets,’ the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for air times and more information.