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Morel Mushrooms-Treasure of Nature

We have run this article during the last two spring seasons but thought that some newer visitors to our site might find some of the secrets to the success Kiowa Muncie has in finding these delicious natural treats.

    Well, we've reached the time of year once again when the wind blows warm, trees awake and bloom and the mushrooms pop. Mushroom hunting is a a passion that resides deep inside me from my childhood days of watching my late papaw Woodrow Lacy. He would bring home huge yellow mushrooms from the oil fields he worked. Today I hunt my own though I never got the chance to hunt mushrooms with my papaw. But I feel he's with me every time I find one of these hidden "treasures." I've been hunting the illusive morel for the past eleven years and every season seems to offer a new challenge of the hunt. Each spring begins a bit different than the one before so in order to stay on top of them I decided to learn the ways of the morel mushroom. Nothing with mushroom hunting is set in stone but I'll go over some basic information about mushrooms that may be helpful to the beginner as well as the expert.
    The morel mushroom is a "fungus" and this plays into the most important behavior of the morel. There are a lot of things to factor into the conditions being just right for a morel to fruit. These include air temperature, soil temperature, humidity and rainfall. Mushrooms love rain and I've noticed they seem to get bigger with each rain. Have you ever heard someone say that a mushroom just pops up out of the ground? This has been a big question I pondered in my early days of mushroom hunting. On a few mushroom hunts I would find small mushrooms and decide to leave them until I hiked back through about a week later. When I did this I would always return to find them somewhat larger. This got me wondering, do morels grow? Turns out morels do grow! Research and time lapse video show that morels have a life span of two and a half to three weeks of growth given the right weather conditions. So if your out hunting and find small morels leave them and return later. This will make a difference in your overall yield.  You can do this in places that most people do not hunt. If a lot of people hunt the area you pretty much have to pick them right away or someone else will. This is totally up to the one hunting at the time but really works well in less public places.
    In order to find and understand the morel mushroom I've included a few basic tips than may help you find these wonderful treasures.

    Tip # 1 Perhaps the most important tip for anyone wanting to take up mushroom hunting is to learn your trees! Morels are always found around and under certain species of trees. The morel is thought to be "mycorrhizal." This means they form a mutual relationship with the roots of certain kinds of trees. The trees commonly associated with morels are ash, elm (dead or dying), poplar, sycamore, and apple. Black morels tend to show themselves first in the season followed by the yellows mid way through the season. The most important tip I give anyone wanting to take up mushroom hunting is to know those trees.

    Tip # 2 Always carry your morels in a "mesh bag." Never use plastic bags! Morels asexually reproduce by a spore system and they spread by the dispersal of those spores. The more spores you spread the more morels you'll find year after year. By carrying the morels you find in a mesh bag you drop spores as you stop and go. Something else very important to do is never pick all the mushrooms. Leave the older more dry morels to spore out for the following  years. It is possible to pick a spot dry which leads to my next important tip.

    Tip # 3 Never pull a morel up out of the ground. When you pull the morels up you kill the root system. This root system can extend a few feet to a few hundred yards. This is why if your out hunting and you find one mushroom you will usually find a few more. They are all  a part of this same root system or better known to the mushroom hunter as a "patch."

    Tip # 4 Recognize the weather conditions as well as soil textures. These conditions in the soil have to be just right for the morel to fruit and our mountains here in eastern Kentucky are great for this. We have the right mixture of sand, clay and decaying organic matter. Remember, mushrooms are a fungus so we also have to have the right air temperature, soil temperature and humidity. The area needs to stay damp so always look on the wet side of the mountain. The spring "awakening" of certain trees trigger the mushroom to start it's life cycle and reproduce. When all these conditions are right watch for a good warm rain followed by a few days of 60-70 degrees for the highs and lows in the 40-50 degree range. When you get all these conditions in the right spot you'll likely find mushrooms. This is one reason why the mushroom is considered illusive, timing is everything.

    Some great places to look for morels are old logging sites. They love places the ground has been disturbed in the past. Many of these places can be found in the forests of eastern Kentucky from the logging days of long ago. Also look for places that are disturbed by water. This could be run off from a mountain or the flood plains of a river. Just make sure you have permission before entering any property. Another great place to search for morels are in areas of past forest fires. Burn sites are great and produce the most morels of any site. One of my favorite patches was involved in a forest fire a few years ago and produced 15-20 pounds in one season! The black morels especially love burn sites and usually produce a bumper crop compared to the yellow morels which arrive a little later.

    So after you find your morels it is time to prepare them. I use the most common method of frying them. I get asked quite often on how I prepare my mushrooms. I begin by washing them and cutting each one in half. I then soak them in salt water for about 30 minutes to an hour. Next, I roll them in flour or cornmeal/flour mixture making sure each side is coated good. Then I fry them in lard using a cast iron skillet. I fry them turning them until both sides are crispy. Sometimes I freeze and store the mushrooms for a treat later.You repeat all the steps mentioned above in preparation for cooking but do not cook them. Place them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. After they have frozen solid simply put them in a freezer bag and they will keep for months. They taste just as fresh as the moment you froze them.

    The last thing I want to leave with you comes from my papaw. He always said watch the dogwood tree, once the leaves on the dogwood are the size of a mouse's ear the yellow mushrooms are up. I hope everyone has a great mushroom season this year. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the box below.   



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