May Morel Madness 2010!

We have had the pleasure of finding some of the tastiest (and easiest as well as "safest") edible fungus on Mr. Neil's property in warm weather including Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods and Giant Puffball.  We've seen morels here and there but because they tend to come out during spring bird migration, my mind is otherwise occupied and I've never made the effort for an all out morel hunt.  I had done it a few times in Indiana but not much more.  Also, nearby neighbors usually hunt morels and in good years they are very generous with their harvest (and I'm not opposed to a honey/morel exchange)  so I haven't had huge incentive to look.

This year, Lorraine and I decided that we would give it a go.  We researched morel sites on the interwebs--our favorite site is The Great Morel (great information for beginners and a map that shows when people are finding them).  It seemed to us that the time was right and all we needed was a night of rain, some 60 degree-ish temps and some dead elms.  We noted that it was going to rain Friday and felt Saturday morning would be great for a meet up.  We boned up on morel hunting and used Google Image search to see what elm tree bark looked like so we would know what to look for.  Isn't it great what we can to with the internet these days?

As Non Birding Bill and I were driving out to meet Lorraine at Mr. Neil's we got a call.  It was a frantic Lorraine.  She was already there and had decided to test her dead elm id skills.  She looked under a tree that looked like a dead elm according to the Internet and was surrounded by morels.  As I heard NBB's end of the conversation, I was screaming, "I can't believe she started without me!!!"  NBB was laughing, she didn't mean to, she just checked a tree in the yard to see if it was an elm and there they were.

Lorraine kindly left a cluster for me to find and pick when I arrived--what a gal!  It was a great way to start and we searched the surrounding dead trees.  Morel mushrooms are not only tasty but part of the Foolproof Four category of wild mushrooms--you can't mistake them for any other mushroom.  Now, before anyone takes me to task in the comments about false morels--true morels are hollow in the middle, false morels are solid in the middle.  All of our findings were very hollow in the middle.

We did find a few more morels in the general vicinity of Lorraine's first harvest but not like the grouping she had initially found.  Of course, we were sticking pretty darn close to the house, we still had acres of woods to check--who knows how many more we would find?

There were white-throated sparrows serenading us as we searched.  I made the choice to leave my digiscoping equipment back at the house while we went into the woods.  As I said earlier, my birding distracts me from morel hunting.  I needed to make sure to focus on the ground, not getting photos of warbles flitting in the leaves overhead.  I took my binoculars--I wasn't crazy, if a cool bird was around I was going to look, just not focus on getting photos of them.  As we went through the woods, we were not finding any more mushrooms--at least not edible ones.  We thought about what was different from the yard vs the woods--shade.  We found another spot that should have had morning sun and began to search.  Lorraine and I wandered from each other and after about fifteen minutes I heard a scream, "MUUUUUUUUUUUSHROOOOOOOOOM!"

Lorraine found more!  She collected her bounty and we were re-energized in our search efforts.  It wasn't long before we found another patch--this one however was surrounded by some young stinging nettle.  We didn't let it deter us but our hands felt the sting for several minutes afterwards.

This patch was so large (and fortunately not all in the nettle)  and so spread out that when we realized it, we were surrounded.  We were afraid to take a step for fear of crushing the tasty, tasty shrooms.  I got on all fours to get ground level and a better view of the morels that were all over.  We filled our bags and they were heavy!  I attached my laundry bag to a stick to make it easier to tote.  The woody/nutty/salty smell of the fungus made my stomach growl.  I've run across a few morel hunters in the woods before and always felt a slight pang of envy seeing those bulging bags of shrooms.  Never thought I would be one, but there were with heavy laundry bags full of morels--like we were pro shroomers!  As we wrapped up our day of hunting, I got a text from NBB back at the house--even he found a morel.  His location was by far the best:

He found a tiny one at the zombie graveyard.  Makes sense...morels kind of look like brains and what self respecting zombie is going to ignore a brain shaped shroom?

So above is our harvest for our first ever morel hunt.  Not bad!  Especially since we are beginners when it comes to morels and...Lorraine doesn't like to eat mushrooms.  She's getting a bit more adventurous and has eaten Hen of the Woods and she did make us an awesome morel asparagus cream soup for dinner but I think she dug the hunt more than the taste.  I enjoyed both.  NBB and I took some home and ate them in omletts and sauces and then Lorraine dried the rest.  Reconstituted morels make a most excellent broth--I'm salivating just thinking about what Mr. Neil might whip up for us when he returns.

Can't wait to see if we find any more this month.  Check out the Great Morel sight for more info if you would like to search for your own.