HUNTING AND GATHERING: Morel Mushroom Tips

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by Bret Amundson

51015 - morels assorted-11

Springtime for hunters can be a lonely time of year.  You can get a turkey tag, but you’re pretty much one and done.  At least once you finally trick a wary gobbler into range anyway-I have gone a whole season with lots of days in the field without ever drawing my bow.  But essentially, in Minnesota, you’ve got one tag and once it’s full, you’re done.

So what else is there? Fishing? Sure, I spent opener on Vermilion and I’ll go wet a line any day of the week.  But there’s something about getting my feet dirty, head down searching for sign in the woods, in search of prey.   In this case, that prey is mushrooms.

51015 - morels assorted-13Morel mushrooms to be exact.

Finding morels is new to me.  Full disclosure:  I’ve never been a big fan of eating mushrooms.  I think it was more of a texture issue than anything else. But, as is the case when you get older, it was time to expand my palate and venture into the world of fungi.  Plus the idea of hunting for them and getting into the woods appealed to the “hunter/gatherer” in me.

Black morels would be the target in the central Minnesota area as Jamie Dietman and his wife Tammy jumped into my truck and we headed out to bounce down some muddy roads.  While black morels are smaller than yellows, they can be found in abundance and a bagful can compliment just about any meal.

Dying, (but not dead) elm trees have been a popular landmark to search for when seeking out morels, but that seems to be the case more for the southern Minnesota yellow morel, versus the northern black.

“Yellows get to pop can size.  From pop can size to half that, which is still twice as big as the black ones,” Dietman said. “We do find a few yellows up near Brainerd.  St Cloud is kind of the line.  We don’t have a lot of elms up here. Ferns and moss are the two things I always look for (for blacks), find that type of area.  The moss usually grows on a place that’s been disturbed.”

51015 - morels assorted-8Our search yielded black morels that we promptly cooked up when we got home, but more importantly it offered a chance to get back into the woods and see the trees shake the deep slumber off their branches.  Buds were appearing everywhere you looked as well as other varieties of mushrooms sprouting up in all directions.  The majority of them being poisonous to humans.

Snowbank mushrooms, turkey tails, puffballs, inky caps and more all made appearances during our short walk. I did some research online to learn more, but most websites encouraged talking to someone in person who knows more about them.  As we’ve learned from tv commercials, just because you see it on the internet, doesn’t make it true!  Based on my limited knowledge, I turned to someone I knew that could identify them properly.

Matt Breuer has spent considerable time in the woods and picked a mushroom or two.  He happily dug through my photos to help identify what was what.

Do your own research before heading out as there is sneaky jerk among the fungus called a “false morel“, that can be harmful if consumed.  We didn’t see any on our trip, but they can be spotted.

“They look a lot like a morel,” Dietman explained. “But if you pull on them, the heads will fall right off.  Once you learn the difference, you’ll know.”

A “true” morel will also have a hollow body as opposed to a “false” one.  The top will also grow outward.   You won’t want to eat one.  The good ones however, were a great compliment to the steak we had on the grill.

51015 - morels assorted-10“First, you rinse them off,” Dietman mentioned when discussing how to prepare them. “A simple rinse, pat them dry and throw them in a pan. Saute them with butter for a couple of minutes.”

What if you end up with a large harvest and would like to save some for another time?

“We dehydrate the rest and keep them in mason jars.  They’re not as tasty, but you’ll have some all summer long.”

This is the time to get out, stretch the legs and get back into the woods.  As Dietman explained, the beginning of May, when the ground starts to warm up, the leaves are greening up and we get a good rain, is when you’ll start to find mushrooms.  Of course, it’s easy to internet scout these days too and our Facebook feeds have been full of morel pictures telling us it’s time to go.

51015 -fiddle heads and buds-5It’s also a good time to find woodticks and deer ticks.  Dress appropriately in the woods and make sure to do a tick-check when you get home.  We all pulled ticks off us afterward.

But don’t let that stop you from combing the forest floor for these edible treats that nature provides.  Do some homework before you go, but take the time to try it.  Bring the kids and get outside!

Here are more pictures of morels and other various mushrooms that were seen on Sunday:

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