Morel mushrooms are among the most prized edible wild mushrooms in the world. Resembling a sponge on a stick, morels don’t look like ordinary mushrooms– or taste like ordinary mushrooms. Morels have a rich, creamy flavor that is deliciously earthy, nutty, steak-like- and it’s this awesome taste that makes the morel mushroom No.1 with mushroom lovers. It’s been said that “there is something almost cruelly tantalizing about morels. No other mushroom in the world, save perhaps the white truffle of northern Italy, offers quite the degree of flavor and fragrance of a fresh morel.” The taste of morels is exquisite and indeed addictive. The unique flavor of the morel mushroom is prized by gourmet chefs around the world for special menu options, and the results can be quite creative. FoodNetwork.com lists over sixty morel recipes ranging from omelettes, sauces, vinaigrettes, morel pate, morel stroganoff, veal and morel pie, to the exotic morel tarts and morels in puff pastry with cream.
Early spring is the season for hunting morels. More than 50 million people in the world hunt for morels every spring. Morel hunting contests, festivals, online morel hunting discussion boards, t-shirts, walking sticks, Mushroom lamp and other décor items abound. There’s even a nickname for people obsessed with morels: Roon. John Ratzloff, author of the romping book The Morel Mushroom says a Roon is defined as “A person possessed by extreme or insatiable desires for morel mushrooms” or “A keeper of the secrets and Order of Roon.” Roons are willing to pay upward of $52 per pound for fresh morels or $20 per one ounce for dried.
Morels are most prolific in the U.S., though they can also be found in Russia, Australia, China, Romania, England, Pakistan and France. Morels grow in every state, every Canadian province and most countries throughout the world. They thrive best in climates with pronounced seasonal changes. Morels are particularly popular in Europe, and they are commercially harvested in India, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Spring is the season for hunting morels, and they appear only briefly, making the harvesting season very short. Of course, spring is relative depending on where you live. In the U.S., morel mushroom season begins first in California and the Pacific Northwest, then southern states, then concentrates roughly in the Midwest, stretching to a few eastern states. Morels sprout from January to early June, with April and May being the peak season. In Canada, morel season usually starts in May, and can extend to July, as the snows recede slowly in different regions. Further north, in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, morel season runs June 1st to July 30th, peaking at the end of June.
Generally speaking, the best time to begin looking for morels is when daytime highs in your area have been in the 60’s (15° to 21°C) , with nighttime lows no colder than the 40’s (5°C). Rain is important, too. Mushrooms like it warm and moist- but not soggy. Morels grow where soil is moist yet well-drained- not oversaturated. If you have a dry spring, the crop will be sparse. If you have ample rain- but not an unusually wet spring- the crop will be plentiful. Many mushroom hunters know to head out after receiving warmer rains. Morels need moisture, warm days and warm nights.
Seasoned mushroom hunters will swear by identifying particular types of trees as the key to locating morels. Morels seem to particularly love the American Elm, White Ash, Tulip Poplar and apple trees. The American Elm has been greatly eradicated due to Dutch Elm Disease, but the yellow morel motherlode can usually be found around Elms, particularly dead ones, and old, overgrown apple orchards.
There’s a reason mushroom hunters call it the “elusive morel.” Sometimes morel mushrooms don’t grow back in the same spot the next year. Morels are masters of camouflage, blending in with leaves, faded grass and twigs. The trick to seeing morels is to lie low, to scan the ground ahead of you to notice the distinctive morel shape. The oblique light of morning and late afternoon often highlights morels that stick above the leaf litter, making them easier to spot. Imprinting the image of the morel in your mind helps to see them more clearly. The best advice is simply to get out there and look until you find one. Once you’ve found one, you’ll find others. Then when it becomes easier for you to find this elusive treat, you’ll be hooked on morel mushroom hunting for life!