Foraging Morels

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Morels are an easy beginner mushroom and incredibly delicious even for the most cautious of eaters.

Edibility

Morels are a delicacy sought after by gourmet chefs and foodies. They are mainly harvested in the wild and therefore can be difficult to find.

Their earthy, nutty, delicious smell and flavor will turn anyone into a mushroom lover. Always cook all mushrooms to unlock their nutritional content. They are great sautéed in some butter or olive oil and eaten plain or added to omelets, soups, pastas, and more.

They appear in the spring to mid-summer after several solid rain events in deciduous forests. The soil temperature needs to be between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for them to make an appearance. They grow best in areas where the trees have been dying from a wildfire or other causes.

If you find a patch of morels one year, you’ll probably find them in the same place next year, but they don’t necessarily spread as quickly or prolifically as other types of mushrooms. Just because conditions are good for morels to grow in a particular spot, that doesn’t mean they will actually be growing there. 

For this reason, morels can be hard to find, and you have to know where to look for them. The best place to start is always where you have found them growing in past years.

Morels can be found at elevations from 400 to 5,000 feet, though elevation range for morel proliferation is 400-600 feet above sea level.

Morels seem to have a preference for certain deciduous hardwood trees, especially oak, elm, tulip poplar, cottonwood, maple, sycamore, and ash. Growing near evergreen is not out of the question if a forest fire has recently occurred.

Morels don’t grow from the trees themselves but from the ground surrounding the trees. As the trees and their roots decompose, they add nutrients to the soil that make it an ideal spot for morels to grow.   

Time Of Year

Usually late March to early May, though this may vary depending on the latitude. A good trick to to start looking for them when dandelion flowers first appear.

Identification

Regardless of the color, morels are highly recognizable mushrooms. Some common identifiers include the narrow, wrinkled, pitted caps and hollow stems. 

The cap of the morel is typically attached to the stem rather than free-hanging. 

If in doubt about whether your mushroom is a morel or not, slice it open. True morels should have a free, hollow cavity from the tip of the cap to the base of the stem.

Varieties of Morels:

  • Black morels: Mushrooms in this group should have dark-colored caps ranging from black to dark gray to dark purplish. Black morels are typically some of the earliest to appear in the spring.
  • White or gray morels: These morel varieties have lighter colored caps ranging from white to beige to pale gray. They are some of the easiest to identify as true morels because they have a classic look and color, and they typically appear toward the end of the season.
  • Yellow morels: Morels of this variety come in many shades, but all have a yellowish tint to them. They also tend to appear later on in the season. 
  • Half-free morels: These mushrooms have caps that are partially detached from the stem, giving the cap a skirt-like appearance. They usually appear toward the middle of morel season, and though they are edible, they can be tricky to identify because they have a similar appearance with non-edible mushroom varieties.

MORELS VS. FALSE MORELS

There are several inedible mushroom varieties that look similar to morels; for this reason, they are known by the blanket term “false morels.”

False morels in the gyromitra genus, known commonly as beefsteak mushrooms, have a bubbly or brainlike cap appearance and may be more reddish or bluish in color than true morels. 

Beefsteaks don’t have the classic conical shape of true morels. If you cut one open down the center, it may have air pockets but will not be hollow all the way through.

Beefsteak Morels

There are a couple of false morels in the verpa genus, and these are a bit easier to confuse. They look very similar to true morels but have a significant difference: their caps do not attach to the stems but are completely free-hanging. 

Verpa mushrooms also tend to sprout sooner than true morels. That’s one reason why it’s so important to know when morels grow in your area.

Verpa Mushrooms

Morels are typically very easy to identify, but if you haven’t collected them before, it might be good to go with someone who knows what they look like and where to find them–someone who can point out the false morels and help you learn to avoid them.

If you’re planning to go it alone, though, first check out the following two videos about how to properly identify morels and tell them apart from false morels.

Conclusion

Morels are an excellent beginner mushroom to start with, just make sure don’t have a type of false morel.

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