Only growing wild in the spring, morels have honeycomb-like ridges, are easy to harvest sustainably, and taste best in simple recipes.
Look for these mushrooms in fruit orchards, or along the ground at the site of recent fires.
Photo by Jeremy Umansky
Inexpensive, fun, and yielding delicious results, foraging for local, natural plants is gaining popularity across the nation. Experienced foraging guide Leda Meredith has written The Forager’s Feast (The Countryman Press, 2016) to break down everything you might need to know about the sensation. Learn to identify edible plants in the wild, how to harvest them without harming the growing plant, and try some original recipes while you’re at it!
You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Forager’s Feast.
Morels are a spring mushroom, and that’s part of their ID: Tell me you found a morel in late fall and I’m going to wonder what you really found. Look for them on the ground in fruit tree orchards and at the site of a recent fire.
Look for morels in April, May, and early June.
Where you find one, you are likely to find more, but they aren’t always easy to spot. Last year’s leaf litter usually partially covers morels and blends in with the gray, black, or brown color of their caps. The caps are most often a darker color than the stems and are covered with a honeycomb-like pattern of pits and ridges. Size can range from less than an inch high to several inches.
There is a similar-looking, inedible mushroom called the false morel (Verpa bohemica). It may cause gastric distress if eaten. However, it is very easy to tell morels and false morels apart. False morel caps have rounded, convoluted ridges that look almost like brains, whereas the edible Morchella species have a pitted, honeycomb pattern of ridges. Still not sure? Cut the mushroom in half lengthwise: true, edible morels are hollow all the way through.
You are not harming the mycelium — the buried network that makes up most of the mushroom organism — by harvesting the fruiting bodies (the part we call “the mushroom”).
Cut off each morel at approximately ground level with a sharp knife. Soak in a tub of water to remove any insect inhabitants before cooking or dehydrating.
Simply slivered and sautéed with a little butter or olive oil, morels are wonderful in omelets, risotto, cooked alongside wild springtime alliums such as ramps or end-of-season field garlic, or on pasta. Keep the preparation simple, because morel flavor is mild and the not-quite-crunchy texture is part of what makes them special. You don’t want to bury them in complicated sauces or recipes with too many competing ingredients.
Morels are one of the best mushroom candidates for dehydrating. The rehydrated mushrooms are almost identical to the fresh ones. To rehydrate dried morels, pour boiling water over them and let them soak for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water to use in soups or sauces. Treat rehydrated morels like fresh morels in any recipe.
Cleaning morels can be a hassle because of all the tiny crevices. Soaking them in salty water overnight dislodges dirt and any bugs.
To try a dish yourself, see Meredith's recipe for Stuffed Morel Mushrooms.
Reprinted with permission from The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles by Leda Meredith, published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. Buy this book from our store: The Forager’s Feast.
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