My son-in-law is a computer game addict. He will say he is not, yet I see the tell-tale signs – boxes and boxes of games in the basement, old and new PlayStations stacked in the living room, Xbox players nearby.
And when we have a family gathering, he is usually found in the family room, praying to his cellphone video-game gods.
I have tried to motivate him into the woods, buying him hiking boots for Christmas and Cabela’s gift cards for nearly every birthday.
This week was the final straw. He posted a photo on Facebook, holding a hand-sized morel mushroom he had found – growing in the grass in his backyard! He didn’t even have to go to the woods to find them and there were more popping up.
It seems unfair, especially when I have spent countless hours searching for a “glory hole” of the wild delicacies, and he finds them growing right in his yard. Oh, the injustice of it all!
But wait a minute … I suddenly remember that the best part, beyond eating those scrumptious little morsels, is the time spent wandering through the woods, enjoying the quiet, peace and beauty of the woods. Who cares if you actually find anything when what you have actually found is serenity? Ha! My son-in-law thinks he is the winner. Think again, son!
Morel mushrooms are found predominantly in the Midwest, in late March through May, depending on weather conditions. According to radishmagazine.com, “As a general rule-of-thumb, morels begin to emerge when the overnight low temperature does not fall below 60 degrees for three consecutive nights and continue to emerge until daytime high temperatures reach the low 80s for three days in a row.”
The best places to find morels are in lush forests with deep, rich soils. Look for areas under ash and oak trees, or where dead or dying elm or fruit trees are found. Usually south facing slopes are best. I say “usually” but, when it comes to morel hunting, anything goes (hence, my son-in-law’s blind luck!). Just because that prime spot you found does not produce a single morel, don’t give up because you may find the mother lode next year in that same spot.
A word of caution – if you are a first-time hunter, make sure you know what you are looking for. Morels are very distinct, but there are some species of mushrooms that are slightly similar and can be poisonous. Make sure, if you are hunting on private land, to ask permission from the landowner first.
If you do find yourself in the fortunate situation of finding some morels, I hope you brought along a mesh bag (onion bags work great) to carry the spongy delicacies home. The morels are full of millions of spores and, by carrying them through the woods in a mesh bag, you spread the spores and can help to make next year’s hunt even more successful.
One other little tip – if you find a hidden patch, keep it a secret! Don’t put the picture on Facebook as my son-in-law did. Having your own cache is all part of the fun and, if you tell one person, you might as well tell the whole world. So keep the secret to yourself and you may have happy hunting for years to come.
If, after all your hunting you still come up empty-handed, you can always buy some at your local farmers market or some local grocers sometimes sell them. But you better be prepared – they can fetch as much as $30-$75 per pound.
I hope my son-in-law can put his cellphone down long enough to focus on and enjoy the “edible gold” that he is eating at suppertime – even if he didn’t have to work for it.
For more information on morel hunting, go to www.morelhunters.com and www.morels.com.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.