Q. What time of year should I start looking?
A. Spring is the time when morels fruit. When soil temperatures are consistently in the 50’s and there is available moisture in the soil, conditions are ripe for morel collecting. In the Muskegon area, the season generally starts two weeks before or after the first day of May. Depending on weather conditions, the season can last 4-5 weeks.
Q. What kind of area should I look in (wet, dry, under pines, deciduous, sandy or dark soil, under leaves or logs?
A. Morels are a mycorrhizal fungus. This means their “root” system (called mycelium) works under the surface of the soil to locate and attach to the root system of certain trees. The mycelium are actually the mushroom. The part that is above the soil surface is the fruiting body of that mushroom (what we call a morel). The mushroom creates a symbiotic relationship with trees, where the mushroom provides the trees with water and nutrients from the soil and the tree provides sugars to the mushroom to promote growth.
Morels create relationships with specific types of trees – aspen, balsam poplars, elm, ash, sycamore, and apple trees. Occasionally, they associate with conifers, such as white pine. The best place to look is under these types of trees, in soil that is well drained and not compacted. Mushrooms breathe oxygen (like us) and require oxygen in the soil to proliferate. I have my best luck under large trees with minimal undergrowth and a thin layer of decomposing leaves.
Q. How do I know it’s a morel, and SAFE to eat?
A. Morels have a couple toxic look-alikes, so attention to detail is key. If you cut a morel in half, from top to bottom, the stem and cap should be totally hollow. The cap (or stem) should contain no internal chambers or white cotton-like material. As well, the stem should attach to the bottom of the cap, not up inside the cap. There is one species of morel which the stem connects half way up inside the cap (half-free morel) but, beginners should stick to the basics.
On the subject of safe to eat, they are safe for most people when they are cooked (they actually contain a poison until they are cooked). As with any food, certain people may have an allergic reaction. It’s recommended (for any mushroom) that you only eat a small portion the first time, to check for any adverse allergic reaction.
Q. How quickly should they be eaten after harvesting?
A. When picking morels, never place them in a plastic bag or sealed container. The morels must have ventilation or they will start to decompose. If not eaten right away, fresh morels can be refrigerated for a week or two.
Q. How do you clean them?
A. When harvesting, I use a small brush to remove any debris, or other matter, before they go into my basket or mesh bag. When I get home, I cut each one lengthwise and check for anything that may be on the inside. This way I can also verify they are actual morels (no cotton-like material or chambers).
Q. Can they be frozen, or dehydrated?
A. Yes. They can be frozen. I lay them out on a cutting board (cut side up), individually, and placed them in the freezer. After they are frozen, I put them in a plastic bag. The pre-freezing prevents them from freezing to one another. This allows me to take only a few from the bag, as needed.
Q. What are some ideas for preparing them?
Sautéing with butter and garlic is the old standby (great on steaks). My favorite, however, is creamy morel and wild ramp (wild leeks) soup. It stores well and if made thick enough it can also be used over pasta. (Note: Cooking with Mushrooms recipes can be found on the Michigan Mushroom Hunting Club website)
Q. Where can I learn more about mushrooms?
The Michigan Mushroom Hunting Club (MMHC) is one of the best resources for learning about mushrooms in our area. The club was established on the East side of the state in 1981. It has now grown to include a Central Region and a West Michigan Region. The club has over 27 public hunts (open to the public) and many private hunts (members only). There are five public hunts scheduled in Muskegon throughout this year. While the morel season is for only a short time in the spring, there are edible mushrooms that fruit throughout the warmer months. Some of these (in my opinion) are better than morels.
For more information regarding the MMHC and club membership form: www.michiganmushroomhunters.org
Follow the club on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/240135906521000/
Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, West Region Coordinator
State of Michigan certified Wild Mushroom Expert