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How to Find Edible Morel Mushrooms (With Recipes)

I promised! Here’s the morel hunting post. If you don’t want to hunt for your morels you can still use the recipes by buying fresh morels here, buying dried morels here, or by checking the dried mushroom section at your local grocery store. If you’re really lucky you might find them at your farmer’s market.

If you just want to see photos check out How to Train Your Eyes to Spot Morels (Photo Essay). Or you can learn about morel hunting etiquette.

Personally, I’d rather save the money and go find them myself. Even if I come home with an empty foraging basket I can count a day hiking in the woods as one well spent.

Photo Caption: Thermometers help determine the ideal soil temperature to hunt for morels. These blonde morels retained their distinctive honeycomb cap shape after they were found last year and dehydrated for preservation.

Morels aren’t just rated tops for flavor among mushroom enthusiasts. They are also one of the most seasonal fungi you can search for. Their ephemeral quality means they only come up during a tiny window in the springtime.

Regional mushroom hunters offer varied advice about how to find morels in their area. I learned about morel hunting from Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain, who is based in the southeastern Appalachian Foothills and surrounding mountains.

The common species found in our foothills are the yellow/blonde morel (Morchella esculenta) and the tulip morel (Morchella deliciosa). At higher elevations the black morel (Morchella conica) and half-free morel (Morchella semilibera) can also be found.

You won’t find any morels if you are searching in the wrong season. In the early spring start testing ground temperatures with a meat thermometer pushed 6″ into the soil (in the morning or in the shade). The ideal range is 52 F – 56 F. Late March through early April is the typical starting date for the southern foothills. After that you have up to a month to find your morels. To get the longest possible foraging time you can start in lower elevations and follow them north.

It’s also turkey season in this area so be sure to wear bright colors (preferably neon orange) if you are on land where people are hunting with bigger weapons than a pocket knife and mushroom basket.

Make sure you know what you are looking for. Morels are distinctive once you get to know them but the wrong mushroom can be deadly. USE MORE THAN ONE IDENTIFICATION GUIDE before you eat and use a key instead of just photos! The following websites have good identification info for morels:

Having a minimum of 2 mushroom field guides on hand is also strongly recommended:

Once you’ve learned to accurately identify morels, you may want to study photos of them on Google Images before you go out hunting. The idea is to train your eye what to look for. Tradd says to look at honeycomb patterns to get in the mood. The odd shape of morels is deceptive — they are notorious for their camouflage capabilities.

Morel hunting sites probably vary by region and perhaps by strains of morels. If you live outside of the southern Appalachian foothills and mountains you may want to check other foraging recommendations. For this area look for morels near water where you find tulip trees (which are not poplars), green ash, sycamore, eastern cottonwood, switchcane, and Appalachian bamboo (some botanists feel it is the same as switchcane).

Other possible tree species include water oak and other oaks, red maple, American beech, hickory species, and American elm trees. Apple orchards are another potential location but they are not recommended due to dangerous arsenic compounds in the soil. There have been mushroom poisonings associated with morels from apple orchards.

Moss is a good sign and turf free of thick debris and undergrowth makes the search easier. Invasive evergreen groundcovers such as English ivy can be frustrating while sweetgum balls will drive you mad distracting from the real deal. Be sure to watch out for the hairy, dormant stems of poison ivy! Their oils irritate skin even in the wintertime.

Mushroom hunters try to memorize visual timing indicators as well. I have heard to look for leaves the size of a squirrel’s ear on tulip trees but that does not seem to work for me. In some places the tulip tree leaves are larger than a child’s palm when the morels emerge.  Another recommendation is to start hunting morels when the first redbud tree blooms. On a smaller scale, devil’s urn mushrooms are said to fruit at the same time.

Each year The Great Morel website charts when people start finding morels across the United States. You can compare each season with the previous years. Keep in mind that morel hunters are secretive about their patches and they may not report their findings.

In wet years morels tend to grow closer to the tree and some come up right against the trunk! They often grow like a fairy ring around the tree, so once you find one morel try walking at that same radius from the trunk the rest of the circumference around the tree.

Tradd says he has visited favorite morel spots to find them flooded… with the morels growing underwater! They may be ruined by silt but you can attempt picking and cleaning them if you have a lot of time on your hands. Very gritty morels can be blasted with a sink sprayer. Good luck!

Sometimes you may find tiny hollow stumps level with the ground — a sure sign that someone beat you to it! Wild pigs also eat morels but their digging habits make a messier trail than fellow human scavengers.

Mushroom Mountain has an excellent morel hunting tips page with plenty of success story photos if you need additional inspiration.

Photo Caption: Dried morels stored in an airight container away from direct light can last for more than 3 years.

Once you find your morels, cut them at ground level with a pocket knife or small pair of scissors then gently brush and shake off the dirt. Avoid washing your morels before you eat or dry them if you can help it. If a morel has minimal bad spots go ahead and cut them off in the field so they don’t contaminate the rest of your harvest. It’s possible your morels will have critters hiding among their pocketed caps or inside their hollow stems but these usually depart when the mushrooms are dehydrated. Slice open fresh mushrooms and examine them if this concerns you.

Mesh bags and wicker baskets are the standard method of collecting morels. The idea is to use a breathable container that spores can escape from while you are searching (and theoretically start new colonies for you to harvest from in future seasons).

If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry your harvest by spreading them out in a single layer on an indoor table. Leaving your mushrooms outdoors is an invitation to insects and larger animals. Ceiling or freestanding fans are helpful for increasing air circulation which will speed the drying process and discourage rotting. Commercial dehydrators are an excellent method of drying your morels but with any luck you will find more than yours can accommodate. Some people use oven racks to dry their morels and other people use strings.

The quality of your dried morels will last for at least 3 years if they are kept in airtight containers away from direct light. Another popular method is storing morels in the freezer.

Reconstituting your morels for recipes is easy, simply simmer them in your liquid of choice. Water, wine, broth, and milk are excellent options. You can later strain the simmering liquid through a coffee filter to remove the sand and utilize the rich morel juice in your recipe.

Stems are often tougher to eat than caps. Tradd recommends putting dry morel stems in a blender to make mushroom flour. You can then use the flour to bread other ingredients for frying or baking.

Photo Caption: After the latest SCUMS (SC Upstate Mycological Society) meeting, Tradd Cotter (of Mushroom Mountain) brought a dish of reconstituted morels in cream sauce to share with members. The chef at our local Mellow Mushroom pizzeria served us the mushrooms in light dishes without tomato sauce to fully showcase the flavor.

Other morel websites to check out include:

Now it’s time for eating the morels…

Note that many fresh morel recipes feature other early-spring ingredients like asparagus. If you want to use vegetables from other seasons wait until they are at their flavor peak and use your dried morels.

Recipes:

Happy mushrooming!

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