Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring has Arrived and so have Morels and Ramps

I may have grown up on the east coast in Wilmington, DE but I was not savvy to wild mushrooms or foraging for food back in those days.  In fact, I honestly don't even remember seeing wild mushrooms as a child except for what may have been referred to as toadstools and hence were kicked over by ones big, fat boot!

After I moved clear across country to CA to finish college, I joined the Mycological Society of San Francisco, one of the largest mushroom clubs in the country and that was my first introduction to wild mushrooms in the US.  I found my first chanterelles while steelhead fishing the Gualala River in Northern CA on the coast and then began to learn about Boletus edulis growing along the coast in the fall and then of course came morels.

My very first foray for morels was in the early 1980's outside Yosemite with David Arora and a group from MSSF.  It was one of the most memorable mushroom hunts of my life.  I had heard about the plethora of morels that would come up the first spring after a forest fire, but I'd never experienced it for myself.  We forayed as a group all day and were not having a whole lot of luck.  We were walking back to the campsite as a group when I decided to "foray" into the woods on my own to relieve myself and right next to where I squatted, I suddenly saw morels for as far as I could see.  It was like the forest had been carpeted with them and here I was peeing right next to them!  Well, first a gasp and squeal with delight and then the serious picking began and I returned to the campsite with a big, fat bag of morels.  Needless to say, the cat was out of the bag and everyone scored and we had lots to talk about around the campfire that night.

David Arora is one of the most interesting people and if you ever have the opportunity to attend a foray he conducts, by all means, do it!  He is fun, entertaining, full of stories and you will not be disappointed.  It is well worth the cost to attend. He is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to mushrooms so you will come home loaded with valuable information.

Well, back to the spring at hand, we leap forward a good thirty years and here I am in SE PA where I grew up and searching for morels in areas I knew nothing about when I lived here many years ago.  This is all rather new to me. I don't actually know my east coast deciduous, hardwood trees and hence don't know the best habitat for morels although I am learning.  I've been told ash is good, tulip poplar, and dying elm trees and of course old apple orchards are good producers although you have to be careful with arsenic in the soil left behind from the heavy chemicals used to fertilize the old commercial orchards years ago on the east coast.

Nonetheless, I do know they grow in the woods on our property as I found them here totally by accident about ten years ago.  But, for some reason things seem behind this year as far as the weather has been concerned and they are not up yet.  In fact there are few signs of the predictors that indicate morels are on the way, such as mayapples.  There were no mayapples in the woods at all a few days ago when I went down there but I did find tons and tons of ramps (a wild leek) and stinging nettles. I  also found a bunch of ferns just unraveling but they don't appear to be the right kind to eat as fiddleheads.  So I will have to settle for ramps and nettles for now.  I picked a bunch of both to eat.