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The Mighty Morel

Posted on May 14, 2020

We don’t know about you, but we’re tripping on 'shrooms. By which we mean we have stumbled over a few patches of morel mushrooms while walking in the woods recently. Wait, what did you think we meant??

Yes, this is the time you can find morels, the coveted edible mushroom that pops up on the forest floor for a short time in the spring, usually mid-May. You can easily identify a morel by its conical shape and honeycombed network of pits and ridges. Look carefully, and you can see that the bottom of the cap is attached to the bottom part of the stem. If you cut it in half, you will see that it's hollow. 
 
Here's where we warn you about the False Morel. These guys look pretty similar to real morels, but they are mildly toxic. If you eat one, your stomach may protest… in fact, these false morels produce a chemical that is used in rocket propellant, which, you know, doesn’t sound too great to us. But fear not, there are a few distinctive traits that make these false morels pretty easy to distinguish. First, the caps attach at the top of the stem, with the bottom of the cap hanging over, like an umbrella. Because of this, if you pull it gently, the cap will pop right off, as opposed to a true morel, whose cap is more firmly anchored. Also, the cap isn’t as upright, nor as pitted and honeycomb-like. It’s a little more squished and brainy-looking. Finally, if you cut it in half, it is not hollow. You can find some good photos of both here. If you're not sure what you have, leave it in the woods-- the mantra is, "when in doubt, throw it out!"
 
Morels like forested areas with sandy soil, where they can often be found around oak, elm, ash and apple trees; particularly if the trees are dead. They are also likely to be found in areas where a large fire took place the year before. The Michigan DNR even has a map of where wildfires or prescribed burns took place last year to help morel hunters find good spots to look for them.
 
When you find a morel, cut or snap it at the stem, don't pull it out of the ground, otherwise it won't come back next year. Carry your harvest in a mesh bag, so the spores will fall out on the ground and reproduce. When you get them home, you should soak them in salted water, so any bugs and other critters hiding in the nooks and crannies come out. Drain them well, and store them in a brown paper bag for no more than a couple of days, or freeze them. And then eat them! Here's a pretty decadent recipe for pasta with a morel cream sauce. They are also pretty amazing in scrambled eggs or in a frittata.
 
So get out and find some morels this weekend! If you find any, take a picture, post it on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us (@ChikamingOpenLands or #chikamingopenlands). We’d also love to hear how you like to prepare them. Happy hunting!