Go on the hunt for these meaty-tasting mushrooms
Treasure hunting comes in many forms. For a lot of folks, it’s morel mushroom hunting in the spring. From about mid-April through mid-May, morels, often called dry-land fish because of their meaty flavor, are popping up in the woods across Kentucky.
They fetch a hefty price at the markets because they’re delicious. Some folks go into morel foraging with the intent to sell but end up eating all they find.
Morels are hard to grow commercially, so they’re best found in the woods. I recommend novice morel hunters go with a seasoned “’shroom hunter” the first time or two. Mushroom hunting in general is inherently risky if you don’t know how to identify them well enough. Some species are poisonous and even deadly if consumed.
Fortunately, morels are fairly easy to differentiate from other species. They’re honeycombed with a brain-like appearance and a conical shape. They grow to about 6 inches tall with a hollow stem.
To find them, it helps to know how to identify trees. An old apple orchard, long since harvested and now enveloped by woods, is a great place to look. Morels often grow near oak, elm and ash trees. The soil around dying and fallen trees is also fertile ground for morels.
Early in the season, check out south-facing slopes where the soil is warmer. As the season progresses, go deeper into the woods. Morels love moist soil, so be sure to check the woods around a meandering creek. Keep track of the weather. Rain, followed by a few warm days, makes morels grow fast. Pinch them off at the base of the stem—and make note of your location, so you can find them again next year.
Sometimes, you can find morels at farmers markets, but they can be expensive. For me, finding them on my own is more rewarding—and even if I come up empty handed, at least I got some exercise and took in the beauty of nature after the long winter.
If you do get lucky and bring home a bounty, you’ll need to soak them in a bowl of water with 1 or 2 tablespoons of salt for about an hour to flush out the insects that often hide in the cavities. Cut them in half lengthwise for an even more thorough cleaning.
The simplest way to prepare morel mushrooms is by frying the halved mushrooms in butter over medium heat for about five minutes or until they are golden brown and tender. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and you are ready for a tasty seasonal treat.