As of May 2, I haven’t found a morel mushroom this spring. But any day the tasty mushrooms will appear, maybe even now as you read this.
I consider myself a greenhorn morel mushroom hunter even though my first search for the tasty mushrooms took place about 15 years ago. On that sunny and warm day in early May, a friend took me to his land south of Brainerd, Minn., and introduced me to the art of finding morels. We managed to locate enough of tasty mushrooms so each of us could enjoy a side dish for supper that evening.
I was hooked.
For veteran mushroom hunters a perennial morel hotspot is a guarded secret. They seem to get as much satisfaction from bragging about their mushrooming skills as they do from eating the tasty morels. But novices can find morels and the search is half the fun.
Morel mushrooms sprout during spring. They can be found throughout Minnesota beginning about mid-April, depending on the weather. The delicious mushrooms rely on sufficient spring rain and warm temperatures to grow. Once the ground has thawed, a good time to find morels is a day or two after a rainfall when the temperature is in the 70s. Since my original morel hunt many years ago each spring, I have searched extensively for my own mushroom mother lode. I have located a few hot spots, but quite frankly I’ve never found morels like my friend and I did on that initial mushroom hunt.
Actually, I’ve had just about as good of luck finding morels while out in the springtime woods for other reasons. Once I found a small patch of the morels while searching for shed deer antlers. I’ve also found morels while hunting wild turkeys. I’ve even spotted the mushrooms as I’ve slowly driven along country roads.
The springtime woods are also full of surprises apparent only to those who walk with eyes glued to the forest floor, looking for the well-camouflaged morels. One day I found a newborn white-tailed deer fawn, its spotted coat demonstrated near perfect camouflage in the sunlight dappled leaves. During other mushroom hunting ventures, I’ve discovered the nests of woodcock and ruffed grouse, both cryptic birds that blend exceptionally well with the forest floor while incubating a clutch of eggs.
In central Minnesota look for morels to grow in aspen and ash lowlands, particularly near cleared areas. I’ve had the best luck finding morels where ferns and jack-in-the-pulpit grow.
I’ve never hunted morels in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota, but that portion of the state is known for abundant crops of large, flavorsome morels. According to the local experts, morels seem to “pop” beneath dead elm trees.
Upon arriving home with my rewards, I rinse the morels in cold water and slice them in half the long way. There are many delicious recipes, but I prefer to simply sauté them in butter. I add just a touch of seasoning; I don’t want to hide the natural taste of morels.
If you are lucky enough to collect more morels than you can eat, they can be dried in a food dehydrator and stored in an airtight container for later use.
Or you can give your extra morels to me.
Morel hunting tips
- The Web has a wealth of information about how to identify and find morels. As with all mushrooms, it is advisable to taste a small portion first, then wait a day or so to see if you experience an allergic reaction.
- Look for morels when the lilacs and trilliums are in bloom, when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, or when the fiddleheads are on the ferns.
- Morels can be easier to spot while kneeling. Look towards the sun since the stems seem to glow when backlit and the dark caps stand out against the light brown hues of the forest floor.
- Do not pull morels out of the ground, but instead cut or pinch the stem just above ground level. Leave some morels behind to allow the perpetuation of the species.