The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 9, 2014

Hunting season: Morel lovers ready to start their search

JOPLIN, Mo. — Conditions are almost right to search for the elusive morel mushroom. They're nature's hidden treasures, lurking in the shadows, camouflaged by the forest floor.

My morel mushroom knowledge is on par with that of a 5-year-old, so I consulted my daughter's nature magazine for research purposes. Once I had the basics down, I visited the University of Missouri Extension office for a thorough mushroom guide. I suggest you do the same. You'll want to feel confident that you can differentiate between tasty morels and the false morel, which could potentially kill you.

Finding morels is tough. They're only around for a few weeks during the warm, wet part of spring. You must enjoy the hunt and traipsing around in the woods, or you won't last long. As most morel pickers will tell you, it's about the joy of the hunt. Often you'll come up empty-handed and a nice walk in the woods will serve as your reward. It's like gambling: One payoff makes it all seem worth the effort.

Morels have a lovely, nutty flavor. As a kid, a mushroom-hating friend came over to my house for dinner while we were eating a feast of fried morels. My family agreed to tell her they were fried chicken and she loved them. Don't get me wrong, they don't taste like chicken. At the least, my memory is a testament to the yumminess of morels. And they're high in Vitamin D, which we need to help us absorb calcium.

There are all kinds of wisdom one can glean from a seasoned morel hunter. If the stem isn't hollow, don't swallow. That means morels have a hollow stem, while false morels have a cotton-like filling in the stem. And when in doubt, throw it out. If you're unsure whether a mushroom is poisonous, it's not worth the risk. One thing holds true: Morel hunters are tight-lipped about sharing their picking grounds. Carthage morel seeker Nathan Robertson quipped, "If anyone asks you where you found your morels, you found them on the ground." Touche, Nathan.

Check your mushroom guide for tips on identification and how to look for signs that morels are near. If you are lucky enough to find the mother lode, morels can be dried or frozen. They're simply amazing when sauteed with garlic and butter. Try these recipes if you hit the gold mine.

 

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