Those Elusive Morels

Sink Full of Morel Mushrooms Found in Brown County Indiana

            Well, the snow has melted, the floods have been and gone and the grass is turning green.  It must be getting about time for the morel mushroom season to begin for another year.

            Those elusive little buggers will be popping up everywhere in our little patch of woods within three weeks or so and I want someone at this household to be ready to walk into those woods and pick us a bunch of them.

            Morels are one of the first things that pop up in the springtime and nearly everyone I know hunts them and eats them.  They are extremely hard to find until your eyes become adjusted to the dimmer light now that winter is gone and leaves have started to bud out, and until you spot your very first one.

             After the first one is found, it becomes a bit easier to find more.  It takes a bunch of them to make a good mess (mess in this case is a withit) to others.  And a withit is what you fix as a side dish when you already know what meat you will be cooking for supper (dinner). We country folk call our evening meal supper while city folks call it dinner.  For us dinner is our noon meal.  Got it?

            It takes about five or six messes to get your fill of the little fungi.  After that it is a simple matter to dehydrate what  fresh leftovers you may have, before you soak them in salt water to eat immediately.

            Here’s the recipe I use for that.  Cut each mushroom into two pieces lengthwise and hold each piece under the running water of the faucet and let dry until they stop dripping. It is imperative that you not soak these fungi before you finish the procedure I give now.  Once the mushrooms have been cut, washed and looked over for slugs and other bugs inside the stems of some, they will be ready to dehydrate.

            Also make sure that you really have a mess of the real mushrooms as eating a false morel will give you more agony than you might want.  In 2017 a neighbor who had eaten morels all his life, in error, got hold of a false morel and ate it.  He ended up in the hospital for awhile, critically ill and then was in the same nursing home I was in for rehab after having knee replacement surgery.  I asked him what to took for to make sure they are real.  He explained that the true morel has a tube-like stem whereas a false morel has a solid stem.  The tops look quite closely the same, so do please be careful.  That is one reason you need to slice each morel in half lengthwise, while you are processing them preparing them to be eaten.  It would be an easy way to tell the difference.

            I bought an electrical dehydrator through the newspaper want ads one year, or you can order one from Amazon or some other place, (a new one costs less than $100 and you can use it year after year for a long time.   I have one that has seven layers you can do at one time.  Space the pieces you wish to dehydrate on one of the layers, spaced close but not on top of other pieces.  Set the temperature at 145 degrees and leave it there for about two hours before checking to see how they are doing.  If they are dry and crisp, they are ready to finish.

            To finish the batches, when the winter snow is flying again, take out as many as you think you will need.  I either place them in a plastic ziplock bag and store them in my freezer, or otherwise, if you have a clean, white pillowcase, simply drop them in that and hang the whole shebang inside a closet. 

            When you want to have a mess, put the pieces in very salty warm water and let sit until they have become hydrated and back to their normal size once again.  You may now rinse them through two or three rinses of cold water to remove the excess salt. Roll them in flour with a bit of pepper to taste and fry them in olive oil until nice and brown.  Remove from the skillet and place each individual piece on a plate you have covered with paper towels.  Eat and enjoy.  Just don’t eat too many and get a bellyache.  I learned the hard way to not put them in salt water when I first start to preserve them.  Salt makes them get mushy and you will ruin the whole batch.

            Dehydration makes the morels taste as if they just came from the woods and I have tried everyone else’s methods and to my taste, dehydration is best.

            My husband and two sons were avid mushroom hunters and every year we seemed to have a plethora of them.  So naturally I always had some to eat now and some to eat when the next snow flies, but you can eat them at any time you like because it does not matter how long you store them.

            Mickey and sons, Lonnie and Douglas, would spend hours and hours in the woods searching out these elusive fungi.  I think it was not only the opportunity to walk with our boys and listen to their talks and give his sage advice but was a good form of exercise and bonding with each other.

Master Brown County Woodsmen and Morel Mushroom Hunters Mickey and Lonnie Ayers

Deep in the Woods (2015)

The nearest roadway is exactly a 5 mile hike from this spot.

            When hunting mushrooms they could spend nearly the whole day out in the hardwoods.  Mickey and Doug knew every type of tree in the woods and under which ones the morels were likely to be found.  Mickey looked for older, rotten or even falling down elm trees.  Doug preferred popular trees and other types.

            An incident happened one year when they were preparing to cross a small stream.  There was a small tree that had fallen across the stream and Lonnie prepared to step up on it when Mickey saw the tree “move”.  It was not the tree, as it happened, but a large rattlesnake stretched out in the sun.  The snakes come out of hibernation at about the same time as the morels do, so that is the other thing you might want to watch for when walking in our woods. Wear good leather boots and take a snake bite kit.

            Mickey and I were walking in the woods early one year before we thought the mushrooms would be up yet when I, who had never found more than one or two in a hunt, yelled at him, “I wish one time in my life I could find a patch of mushrooms.”

            I was standing at the foot of an old rotten tree that had been down a long time and had nearly decayed away.  I do not know to this day what kind of tree it was and I was not ready with a sack to bring any home with me if we did find some. Everyone who hunts them regularly tell you to use a ventilated sack like potatoes come in and as you walk so the spores fall through the mesh and come back up the next year.

            Just happening to look down at my feet, I saw these fungi growing everywhere and yelled at him to bring me his tee shirt.  I kept pulling the things and putting them in a pile.  By the time he got to where I was standing there was a big pile.  I tied the arms and neck hole of his shirt with some vines I found and placed the morels inside his tee shirt until we got home.  There were 104 morels in my pile!!  For once I had gotten my wish.  Now arthritis and other health problems keep me out of the woods.

            One of the last times I ventured into the woods with the family I contracted the worst case of poison ivy I had had in my adulthood.  It took 13 inoculations from my doctor to get rid of the rash and help my immune system prepare for the next time I got reckless.  I just stay out of the woods anymore.  It just isn’t worth the hassle to take a chance.

            So enjoy those precious morels that if you had to purchase would cost you more than $30 per pound as we know since some people here follow the mushroom line clear up into Michigan and then donate the produce for a sale that benefits local charities.

            Bon appetite!!

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