Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Elusive Morel

When morel season is in full swing it is hard to think about anything else. My mind is constantly grinding away trying to think of areas I could scour for just a few more for the pot. Needless to say I have no trouble finding Morchella conica which favor fruiting in previously burned areas out west, but the one that constantly has me stumped is the elusive Morchella esculenta. This is the big yellow colored morel that most people think of when you speak of morels.

This mushroom is not so elusive in the midwest and even eastern U.S. but out here, it is much harder to locate. I used to find a few (maybe 10 or so) under the cottonwood trees on my property in Montana but to find them in the riparian areas along the western rivers is much harder because now you're dealing with private property and either getting permission to scout someone's property, or else you need a drift boat and good oarsman to navigate the river and cruise the banks stopping to pick along the way and always staying below the high water mark in order to remain legal. The problem with the second scenario is the fact that when Morchella esculenta are fruiting in the late spring in Montana, the snowmelt and runoff are in full swing and the river is usually too high and far too dangerous to attempt floating.

I have found scads of them on my family's property in Pennsylvania where they prefer old apple orchards and woods with dead or dying elm trees. They are also widely associated with maple, ash, poplar, cherry and an assortment of other trees but they will fruit prolifically around dying trees, their last attempt to prolificate or become extinct. They love disturbed areas and will grow in places unimaginable to those picking them with what seems like no rhyme or reason to the where and why.

There are certain wild flowers that can be used as indicators for timing morel fruiting. In the Rocky Mountain west, the calypso orchid and glacier lily are often in bloom at the same time or close to the same as Morchella elata (black morel). In Oregon, a good indicator is flowering Oregon grape.

I guess part of the attraction to these honeycombed fungi is the difficulty factor in finding them and the sheer size of them which can be downright huge. These are the perfect receptacle for stuffing so hopefully some recipes will follow in the coming posts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The First Morels of Spring

This is the time of year that drives us hunter/foragers insane waiting ever so patiently...nah, not patient at all! I have been the most impatient person I know waiting for these pesky little fungal finds. I have been out so many times I don't care to think about it; searching along rivers, under leaves, scouting cottonwood trees which are rather scarce in my neck of the WOODS. All this scouting to no avail. I've been to parks, driven around just looking for trees, been to some of last year's burn sites, been to recently logged areas, out in the rain, out in the sun (on the rare occasion we get to see it) and still nothing. I've poured over my notes and re-read posts off mushroom boards for timing of fruitings from last season and all to no avail.

Yesterday started out just the same way. I made my weekly trek to a spot I've been watching for weeks now and waiting. It is the scene from a burn from last summer. I had very high expectations that this would finally be the day, but alas, all I found was a few cup fungus which was not completely bad news. Cups are a precursor to what is to come which is morels, eventually. So, nothing there yet. Then off to another spot for a walk in the woods and all I found on this stop was some trillium, a wildflower that is also used as a timing device for morels. Still no morels. Then off I go with Maggie the Wonder Dog to yet another spot and again...nothing. Well, having gotten quite used to this lack of excitement, I decided to just head home. On the way back there was a spot where a fire had burned last summer that was about as steep as if you were to climb straight up a cliff. I managed to climb up a portion of bank that had a charcoal burned twig and got my balance and almost immediately found a morel right there!

I couldn't withhold the excitement and let out a joyous bellowing howl of approval. After that it was all about mountain climbing for morels. This is by far the steepest place I've ever seen morels grow and not a fun place to pick by any means, but at least I found some and could make a nice meal or two. I walked around the best I could without tumbling down the hill and came around the corner behind a big stump and WOW, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Take a look at this little surprise waiting for me. I couldn't believe my eyes.

The end of this week is supposed to get warm and sunny so things will only get better from here on out. So, get out there and scout your spots because morels are coming to a forest near you! Good luck...