Don't Miss Out on Morel Hunting

In Virginia and other parts of the U.S., morel hunting is a spring tradition. Here are a few tips on finding and preparing the morel mushroom.

| March/April 1980

  • 062 finding morels
    LEFT: A representative example of a morel mushroom. RIGHT: A successful morel hunting haul.

  • 062 finding morels

Because the morel mushroom isn't very attractive to the eye, many wild food enthusiasts are hesitant to try what is actually one of nature's most delectable morsels. Here in the Virginia mountains, though, folks have been morel hunting (the mushroom is a member of the Morchella genus) for generations.

In fact, from about the second week in April until mid-May, Old Dominion foragers eagerly wait for a good soaking rain that's followed by a few warm, sunny days: the sequence of climatic events that forces the tasty fungi to the earth's surface in old orchards, oak forests, and pine woods . . . along stream banks . . . and—occasionally—around old rock piles and in burned-out woods and fields. (My best morel harvests have occurred under very large tulip poplars on a north-facing ridge, when—as the old-timers say—the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear.)

Easy Identification

There are seven different true morels, and all of them are deliciously edible. You can spot 'em easily, as well . . . because they're the only early spring mushrooms with pitted and ridged caps. Generally, the delectable fungi grow about two to four inches high ... are completely hollow through the caps ... and resemble a sponge shaped like a tree (hence their common name, "sponge mushrooms").

Once you've seen your first specimen peeking through the leafy litter, you'll never forget what they look like. And once you've tasted morels, you'll search them out each year . . . just as I do.

Like most mushrooms, morels seem to appear overnight ... and are short-lived wonders that last only a few days. But one important fact—which can save the experienced hunter a lot of time—is that the one-legged edibles are almost always found in the same areas year after year.

The Hunter's Reward

After you arrive back home with your woodland delicacies, you'll have a wide choice of ways to prepare them. Around here, country people sauté their finds in butter, and serve them over toast or with steak and eggs . . . but I prefer to eat the gourmet's delights broiled or grilled with bacon.

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