It’s a morel dilemma each spring. To keep a prized mushroom hunting spot secret or share it with family and friends.
April is the month of crappie fishing, gobbling turkeys and hunting wild morel mushrooms in forests across the Ozarks. Morels pop out of the ground like magic about the time tree buds burst into leaves.
Find morel mushrooms
Here are some tips for hunting morel mushrooms.
• Temperature is key. Morels start popping up when the days get above 60 degrees and nights hover around 40 degrees. Get a soil thermometer. Morels appear when the earth gets between 45 and 50 degrees.
• South-facing slopes warm first. Check north-facing hillsides later in the mushroom season.
• Morels are often found around trees. Check near syscamore, elm, ash and apple trees. Learn to identify these by their bark. Look around dead and dying trees, too.
• Morels like loamy soil found in creek bottoms. But morels can appear anywhere, even in gravel and under pine trees.
• Disturbed ground is good. Burn sites and logging areas are good areas to check.
• If there’s any doubt that a mushroom is a morel, do not eat it.
Melissa Nichols is on safari for morel mushrooms any day she can get into the woods, even on Friday the 13th. Good luck, not bad, was on Nichols’ side when she stepped into the forest April 13 on the hunt for morels.
Nichols lives on Little Sugar Creek at Jane, Mo., and finds mushrooms in the rocky McDonald County hill country from late March through early May. Tagging along with Nichols is like a clinic on how and where to find morel mushrooms. She’s happy to share what she’s learned over her lifelong quest.
Mushroom hunting “is like a big Easter egg hunt for adults,” Nichols laughed, bounding out of her pickup cab in a wooded tract east of Little Sugar Creek. Nichols dashed across a small meadow, then slowed down when she slipped beneath the tree canopy.
The hunt was on.
South-facing hillsides with some sycamore trees are the best places to look, Nichols coached. This spot in a small hollow had everything Nichols could ask for, including mushrooms.
She moved like a deer hunter stalking a wily buck. She walked a few steps, scanned the ground, then moved a little more.
“Here’s one,” she hollered. There was the prize, a morel mushroom the size of a thumb. Nichols knelt on one knee by the mushroom and continued her lesson. “In the early spring, these south-facing slopes with lots of rocks are good,” she said. Later on, morels pop up on north slopes.
She picked the mushroom by pinching it off at ground level with her thumb and forefinger, leaving the stem in the ground. Then she shook the mushroom to sprinkle its microscopic spores around to grow more mushrooms.
“So we’ve got this one,” she said, “and you can see another over there, and two more over there.”
All four morels went into a mesh shoulder bag she carries. The mesh lets spores fall from the mushrooms as she strolls over the leafy ground. Onion bags are good for carrying mushrooms, she said.
Sycamores are her go-to spots, but mushrooms are found around ash trees, elm trees and oaks.
“Log piles are good places to look,” she said. Always look around decaying, fallen trees. That’s where Nichols found her next morel.
Morel mushrooms sprout during a four or five week season, Nichols said.
Getting the hang of seeing morel mushrooms is key. Nichols has hunted mushrooms most of her life and can spot the tiniest morel 10 yardsaway. Morels are mostly the color of coffee with cream and blend easily into the forest ground. The more a mushroom sleuth hunts, the better his eye for spotting them.
“Once you find one or two, it gets easier to see them. Where you find one, if you look around you might find more,” she said.
Ideal hunting time is a warm, sunny day right after a rain. That gets Nichols’ mushroom hunting fever boiling.
“Oh here’s a big one!,” she said, breaking into a dance right there in the woods. “I’ll pick it and hold it up for a picture.” Nichols showed the prize morel, about the size of a fist
Nichols grew up in McDonald County and her family roots run deep. She has permission to hunt mushrooms on private land all over the county. People who want to hunt on public land should contact the agency in charge of the property to make sure picking mushrooms is allowed, Nichols advised.
After an hour of hunting one woody hollow on this lucky Friday the 13th, Nichols’ mesh bag bulged with about 40 morel mushrooms. Cooking up a batch is a fine post-hunt feast. They’re easy to fix, and different cooks have different methods.
Shirley Wolfe, a morel mushroom sleuth from Rogers, said she cooks them “the old-fashioned way.”
Wolfe slices large morels in half length-wise and leaves the small ones whole. She soaks them in cold water for about 15 minutes then pats then dry. Soaking gets debris or ants out of the folds of the mushroom.
“Don’t soak them very long. You don’t want waterlogged mushrooms,” she said.
Dip the mushrooms in beaten egg, then in corn meal. Fry them in oil over medium heat about three to four minutes on each side.
They taste great by themselves or in a salad, Wolfe said.
Nichols cooks mushrooms by soaking them in cold water about 15 minutes, then rolls the morels in a mixture of flour and bread crumbs. She fries them in oil or butter until golden brown, about three to four minutes on each side.
Cooking up a mess of morel mushrooms and enjoying them with some crappie or white bass filets is five-star dining on the bounty of spring.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com.
Sports on 04/24/2018