Warmer weather and rain that we have enjoyed in 2017 is good news for farmers who have sewed their crops and morel mushroom hunters.
By now several of you have found morels – this is the time. Put on a favorite pair of hiking boots and you will be treated by bouquets of purple sweet Williams, violets and hopefully a bag of delicious morel mushrooms.
Morel mushrooms require a combination of sunshine and moist dirt. Then look for a place with rotten trees. Finally, start looking on southern banks that receive the most sunlight early and northern banks during late seasons into early May.
Spores fly through the air, and could land anywhere – seeds for new mushrooms. Correct conditions required and then the morels might come up.
We have walked miles looking for morels. My first morel mushroom hunt happened 64 years ago with my mother. I was born the next day. She has never missed a mushroom season since.
My brother and I join her when possible. Mom does not handle the creek banks or hills as easily these days, yet still manages to hunt through creek bottoms.
Start your quest in the woods, walking slowly while scanning the ground. Morel mushrooms could be anywhere.
We start looking for morel mushrooms in late March or early April when woodlot plants are growing. Half-grown mayflowers are a good indicator of the required soil warmth when early morels start to pop up.
Check unlikely areas – the darn things could pop up anywhere. Apple trees occasionally produce the right conditions in constantly rotting fruit.
Good leaf matting, typically under trees that drop their leaves and bark earlier in the fall and have longer to decay, may produce. Light-colored barked trees like birch, sycamore and cottonwoods are good examples, while dying elm trees may only produce morels for a year or two. Veteran mushroom hunters claim that rotting tree roots will eventually create conditions where morels might pop up.
When the first morel is found, kneel down and look a little longer. My father always said: “Where you find one, you will find two or more.” He was always right. The key is searching the ground slowly and carefully. Morels will occasionally blend in with their surroundings and are easily missed.
WEATHER: Morel mushrooms are temperature sensitive. Early-season hunters should start by checking southern hillsides and creek bottoms that are open to sunlight. Warming trends make eastern areas productive. Northern spots are best when air temperatures heat up at the end of morel season.
A combination of warm days and nights with adequate spring rains is best. The perfect morel environment is wet conditions and air temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees.
Morels do not grow by the sun, lacking chlorophyll, the chemical that absorbs sunlight as energy to reproduce. They start popping up at dusk and grow through the night.
When the sun comes up, morels dry out and release their spores. Some catch a wind current and float to meet another spore from another morel to create more, occasionally making them grow in unexpected places.
Experienced hunters use mesh bags to gather morels. A mesh bag allows spores to release for future mushrooms. We use the same bag over and over, season after season without washing.
Spores that may create new morels come from the mushroom’s head. The ridged pattern of the bag helps release the spores. Some stay in the mesh and release later. Always cut or pinch morel mushrooms off at the bottom. Leaving the roots often helps produce new mushrooms when conditions are correct.
EQUIPMENT: You will need a good pair of walking boots, light colored clothing in case early ticks make an appearance, a mesh bag, a good walking stick and your best pair of eyes.
DISABLED HUNTERS: Wheelchair or disabled morel hunters are limited to paved paths at conservation areas. Morels can occasionally be spotted from these trails, sometimes with binoculars. You may need a helper for picking out-of-reach mushrooms. Driving slowly down logging paths is another good way for disabled hunters to mushroom hunt.
TICKS: According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, prompt removal of ticks will reduce the likelihood of infection dramatically. Most disease transmission occurs after ticks have been attached for longer than 24 to 36 hours. Use a strong set of tweezers or forceps.
Grasp the tick at the front of the body and as close to the surface of the skin as possible, and slowly yet forcefully pull the tick straight out from the body.
Allow the natural elasticity of the skin to provide pressure to remove the tick. Do not grasp or squeeze the rear portion of the tick's body, either with your fingers or with forceps. This can expel the gut contents of the tick into your tissues and increase the likelihood of disease transmission.
After tick removal, use a local antiseptic at the site of the bite and dispose of the tick. If you are in a tick-infested area, use tick repellents. The best available are aerosols containing a 0.5 percent permethrin insecticide that can be applied to your clothing. These products should only be sprayed on clothing, and the clothing must be dry before you wear it.
COOKING MORELS: Soaking in salt water is good for fish, but not morel mushrooms. This does not kill or remove the bugs and the mushroom’s texture will become slimy and salty. Instead, soak morels in cold water.
Try cutting your morels in little pieces to mix in omelets. Most mushroom hunters cut each morel in half and dip them in eggs. Each mushroom is fried in cornmeal, flour or crushed crackers. Either way, fry until golden brown and don’t invite company that night. Few entrées taste better.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com