KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Soon there will be fungus among us! And that’s a good thing for foragers gearing up for morel mushroom hunting season.
WHAT ARE MOREL MUSHROOMS?
Morel (muh-rell) mushrooms are pale tan or gray fungi with a distinctive honeycomb cap. You could liken them to a cross between a tiny Christmas tree and a sponge. They grow in a variety of sizes, but most average three to four inches tall.
Morels are popular for their flavor and texture. Even people who don’t like mushrooms often find they like morels. Those people often say they don’t like mushrooms because of the slippery, slimy texture. Morels have a unique, meaty texture with an earthy and nutty flavor.
WHEN CAN YOU START HUNTING?
Part of the allure of hunting morels is the fact that they only pop up during a short period each year, usually from April to May.
Morels grow quickly, almost overnight! Hunters will start finding them when daytime temperatures fall between 60-70 degrees, with nighttime temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Soil temperatures also play a factor, with optimal mushroom growth in soil between 45-50 degrees.
April is usually the peak season in Missouri, but there is no accurate way to predict its beginning or end.
There are a few Facebook pages that keep track of findings from local mushroom hunters. Keep an eye on the maps they post to see when you should start hunting in your area.
Kansas Morel Hunting. 1.5K likes. Community Organization
WHERE SHOULD YOU LOOK?
Along with the exact timeframe of the morel hunting season, the best location to find them is also pretty unpredictable. Looking for morels must be enjoyed as much as picking them or you won’t last long as a morel hunter.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, you should look for morels in moist woods, river bottoms, and on south-facing slopes. They’re often found near dead elm trees, in old orchards or burned areas.
Check out state parks or public wilderness areas. Make sure you aren’t trespassing on to someone’s private property, or you might find an upset landowner or even the police instead.
WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW BEFORE YOU GO?
Before you start your journey, get prepared. Take some time to learn about morel mushroom identification and pack a bag of supplies.
Though not hard to make a positive identification, morels do have poisonous look-a-likes. These “false morels” contain a chemical that can cause dizziness and vomiting.
False morels have a wrinkled, irregular shape and the caps are brain-like or even look squashed. If you cut the mushroom in half, false morels are stuffed with cottony-white fibers. True morels are completely hollow.
If you’re not 100 percent positive of the ID, don’t eat it! When in doubt, throw it out.
Don't let all that scare you off! Morel mushroom identification isn't too hard, and with some experience, you'll be able to distinguish true from false. For your first trip, it’s not a bad idea to bring along an experienced hunter to check out your first finds.
Also, keep in mind you’ll be spending your day trekking through wooded areas. It’s best to wear sturdy shoes and cover up with long sleeves and pants to help protect your skin against things like poison ivy and ticks.
Pack a backpack to take with you! Bring some water and bug spray. No doubt you’ll find some scenic areas on your journey, so why not pack a lunch too?
NEED TO KNOW MORE?
Check on your state’s Department of Conservation website.
Go traditional! The most common way to enjoy your harvest of morel mushrooms is to bread and fry them. Below is a basic recipe. Customize the flouring process to taste; add a dash of red pepper for kick, or toss in some Panko bread crumbs for crunch.
Place halved morel mushrooms in a large bowl and cover with cold, lightly salted water. Refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
Drain the morels, rinse in fresh water and repeat step one and two twice more. This process helps loosen any dirt or tiny insects hiding in crevices of the mushrooms.
After the morels are clean, place them on a paper towel to drain.
Place flour in a shallow bowl. Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste. This is where you can get creative with your seasoning.
Heat oil or vegetable shortening in a large skillet until hot, making sure the bottom of the pan is coated.
Carefully roll morels in the seasoned flour until coated.
Fry the morels in a single layer in the skillet, flipping them once after one side is browned.
Fry them for at least 3-4 minutes per side, adjusting the heat so they don’t burn. If the oil is at the right temperature, it should sound like frying bacon.
When the morels are cooked, move them to a paper towel to drain.
Serve warm and as-is or with a dipping sauce! (Ranch is a good option)
Interested in taking your morel recipe up a notch? The Missouri Department of Conservation has a list of recipes online.