I’m not exactly sure why, but spring and fall are the two times of the year when I really get a craving for mushrooms.
Of course, in the spring, it’s only natural. Michigan happens to be the home of what many consider the KING of mushrooms, the Morel.
Morels are a Michigander’s birthright. They’re also a prized delicacy in restaurants as far away as Paris. For this reason, when the conditions are right, local mushroom foragers scour the local woods for what they reverently call black gold…or white. They primarily come in those colors.
Many are predicating 2015 to be a good season for morels and wild mushroom hunting in general because of two things that happened prior to this spring.
1. We had a very, VERY cold winter.
2. As usual, Michigan had an enormous amount of snow, which blanketed much of the best hunting grounds since November.
(And you thought nothing good could come out of your suffering this winter, huh?)
To make this year’s crop even more promising, weather forecasters are predicting a damp, cool spring, with slowly rising temperatures through June. Mushrooms LOVE these kinds of conditions and practically jump out of the ground overnight.
The Black Morel (Morchella Elata) in Northern Michigan usually starts slowly during the last two weeks of April. The best black morel hunting is the first two weeks in May. A rule of thumb is that morels begin to grow when the soil temperature reaches about 50 F to 55 F.
White/ Yellow Morels (Morchella Esculenta) come out a little later (usually near Mother’s Day) and are generally found throughout the remainder of May. Mid-May is prime time.
Just where do you go to find these culinary treasures?
Unfortunately, unlike cutting down your own Christmas tree, morel hunting isn’t an exact science. They tend to grow where they want to grow.
Having said that, morels do like hanging out in certain kinds of surroundings, so you can kind of predict where they might be to some degree.
A hint? Learn your trees.
In general, morels like a rich, moist, sandy soil, preferably one that has had a lot of snow. In spite of all the moisture the soil might have gotten from the winter’s snow melt, a little rain helps even more.
Black morels like to grow near Ash, fruit and Aspen trees; they’re even found on lawns and in fields. White/yellow morels especially like Elm, fruit, Maple and poplar trees. Dead trees, especially in areas that had forest fires a few years back, are also prime spots for these tasty shrooms.
The good news is that once you’ve found one, you’ll likely find others in the same area.
However, you REALLY need a practiced eye. Some folks have hunting strategies that range from looking nearly straight down to scanning at a distance of 20 feet or so. Keeping an eye on the prize has some carrying a picture of a morel to look at every now and then to train their eyes. Whatever works…
*A word of caution. Not every fungus among us is a friendly one. Some are downright poisonous. You need to take special precautions to be sure your free treat doesn’t land you an expensive trip to the hospital. The Michigan Mushroom Hunting Club recommends you carry a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms so you can identify your harvest and be sure it’s legit. Get additional information at www.MichiganMushroomHunters.org.
If you do find a real morel, don’t just pull it out of the ground. Instead, pinch off the stem at its base or snip it with scissors. This way, you’ll leave the root intact and encourage its re-growth. This will make everyone happy over and over again.
Another tip–place your foraged mushroom in a netted bag, burlap bag or even a paper bag–anything but plastic, which will rapidly deteriorate your catch. Another side benefit of a porous container is that it may help scatter mushroom spores as you walk through the forest. It can’t hurt.
If you’re really into this, there are mushroom festivals held in many Michigan communities in the spring and fall. This includes the Boyne City and Mesick mushroom festivals in May and the Fall Mushroom Mania that takes place in Charlevoix County over several weeks in the fall.
And speaking of fall, a whole new crop of delicious mushroom varieties are in season then, including such mushrooms as the Meadow, Chanterelle, Bolete, Lobster, Hen-of-the-Woods, Chicken-of-the-Woods, Blewits, and Beefsteak. There’s something for everybody.
Foraging for mushrooms at Nino’s is a WHOLE lot easier. So, if you love morels or mushrooms in general, stop by. We always have a large selection of mushrooms, including morels (when they are available). And a word of advice: it’s a short season, so keep your eyes open!