The month of April brings only one thing to mind for many people in the Midwest – morels!

The morel mushroom is an unlikely delectable with its odd brain or sponge-like shape. This creamy, vanilla-colored fungi grows amongst leaf litter on the forest floor in mid-April after a few rains and like all fungus, when outdoor temperatures have warmed.

In 1990, the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted the Seven City Survey, polling residents in the seven largest cities in Missouri on several items, (Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia/Jefferson City, Springfield, Joplin, St. Joseph, and Cape Girardeau) one being their favorite outdoor activity. For the northwest area, which included Kansas City and St. Joseph, it was morel mushroom hunting.

This time of year, you will see people all over the hills and forests of Missouri and northeastern Kansas, eyes down on the ground with a bag in their hand. There is only one game they are hunting, the mushroom.

Veteran hunters have their favorite spots and will not give them up, even to cherished family members. Some say to look amongst the May apples, others swear to look at the base of old oak trees, and I’ve heard others say their best finds are by rotten stumps.

If you have never hunted for the elusive morel, my best advice is to ask to tag along with someone who knows what they are doing. It is probably not wise to go hunting for a mushroom you have never seen before. (Be careful: Morels have no gills, and do not look like shitake, button, or other mushrooms sold at the grocery. Be sure of a mushroom before you eat it!) If you have seen them, but not hunted, you will get a better feel for their favored habitats.

It is also important to know where you are mushroom hunting. Do not go onto private land without permission. A driveway is not permission. A fence without a “No Trespassing” sign does not imply permission to enter. People get very testy around these parts about having mushroom poachers! I knew a woman in Platte County who walked her fence line with a gun and her two big dogs. The word soon spread she meant business not to poach on her land. I can attest that every year, I have poachers on my land and it is not a good feeling. Always ask, and then honor the answer. Most state, county, and city parks allowing mushroom hunting, but check the regulations before you pick any just to be sure.

What do you do with the mushrooms once you have them? Fry them up! Soak them in cold salt water to remove the dirt and any bugs. Most people make up a batter mix, either simple flour, pancake mix, Bisquick, or even a beer batter. Then fry in butter. You can skip the batter and just go straight to the frying pan, too. Either way, you will have the best tasting mushrooms you have ever had in your life. Serve over steak, as a side, or hors d’oeuvres. (Don’t forget to enjoy your forest walk while you’re out there!)

– Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.