A wonderful outdoor experience to share with family and friends is morel mushroom hunting. They are easily distinguished from other mushrooms with its wrinkle, spongy appearance with hollow stem.
The thrill of finding a morel is because they can be difficult to find. They are considered a delicacy and while they can be purchased at the grocery store, many people prefer to find them in the wild.
In Ohio you usually find them in abundance between mid April and the first two weeks of May, depending on where you hunt them in the state. The season usually lasts a couple of weeks as they do not pop up all at the same time.
Before you hunt morels, know that there are poisonous false morels. Look for photographs on the internet to make sure you have the correct one. While the false mushroom’s cap resembles the morel in texture, looking wrinkled and spongy but more brain-like, the overall shape is not as distinct as the morel.
No matter what kind of mushroom hunting you are doing, use a field guide that contains clear, full-color photos or take an experienced mushroom hunter with you on your first hunt.
Ohio State Parks permit hunting but pay attention to their specific rules at the parks. Ohio’s state forests all permit mushroom hunting, too. Mushroom hunters never tell where their favorite spots are so doing bother asking. Always ask permission to hunt if going onto private properties.
When you head out to the woods, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt for protection. There can be brambles and poison ivy, spider webs and weather elements to consider. The spores of the mushroom are microscopic. The cap of each morel contains 250,000 to 500,000 spores. These spores must become airborne and then find adequate nutrients, soil and moisture. The odds of successful reproduction are slim but people help the process by using mesh bags for their catch. Do not use paper or plastic bags even though they are handy and inexpensive. These bags do not allow mushroom spores to return to their natural habitat. A recycled mesh onion bag will keep your mushrooms fresh and you will replant the spores.
The number of morels has steadily dwindled over the past 30 years. Pesticide use has been a culprit but the biggest factor has been human beings removing the seeds from the woods in nonporous bags.
You will likely find morels by aspen, tulip popular and elm trees and even in old orchards. Look for morels on east-facing hills and around rotting fallen trees and stumps.
Brush off dirt with your fingers or paper towels as they can trap dirt. Rinse under running water, pat dry with a paper towel or soak morels in salt water overnight in the refrigerator. Then dry them off, roll in flour and fry in butter. YUM!
Finding morels in nature is challenging, rewarding fun! Get out there with your family and friends; enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors of the outdoors in spring – happy hunting!
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.