Spring has arrived and with it comes hunting season, mushroom hunting season that is.
I remember when I was little, my dad would go out every spring on the hunt for the delicious hidden treasures in the woods surrounding our home in Walnut Shade.
Mushroom hunting was something that was a family event. We had to wait for the temperature to be just right for a few days before we knew we could go out hunting. My grandma used to say, ‘When the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear then that’s the time to look for morels.’ Hunting was a nature hike and a scavenger hunt rolled up into one.
Learning how to hunt for morels is about observation and patience. They have a very short growing season, so you have to know when and where to look. You have to keep an eye out on the ground, looking for caps that look kind of like a sponge and shaped like a evergreen tree.
Dad taught us that there are three colors of morels; grey, tan or yellow. They are usually about two to five inches tall. Most of the time we would go to the woods, near the creek and on south-facing slopes. Sometimes we would go directly toward some dead elm trees that we knew of or an area by the creek. Mushrooms are a fungus and love the moist dark areas.
Even after I grew up, my dad would take my son and nieces out to teach them how to spot morel mushrooms. In truth I think for the kids and my dad it was more about spending time together than it was about the mushrooms.
For my mom and grandma it was about enjoying the woodsy flavor of these mushrooms. They would wait patiently to see nature’s bounty that would or would not be found. If the hunt was successful, mom and grandma would begin preparing these mushrooms for the feast.
I learned as a child how to properly clean these mushrooms, inspecting each one for any softness or rot and any unwanted guests that may have made their home in the mushroom caps. Morels have these little openings that are sometimes the home of little worms and bugs. The mushrooms should be firm and not too mushy to be edible.
After inspecting each mushroom, we would take a pastry brush to clean the dirt and any debris off the mushrooms. If we found a few little critters inside the nooks and folds of the cap, you would have to take time picking them out of the tiny holes.
Now that they were cleaned, it was time to trim them up. We would cut the part of the stem that had touched the ground. It is usually tough and harder to clean so just cut it off. If the mushrooms were large we would cut them in half or in lengthwise slices. If they were small we would just leave them whole.
Many families have their own recipes and the way they prefer to cook morels. My family either sauteed them in butter with onion and garlic or my grandma’s favorite, breaded and fried. Both are delicious options. I even love them in a cream sauce over pasta.
Now that my kids are adults, I hope that they will continue the spring hunting traditions that have been a part of our family for generations.
If you have never gone out foraging for these elusive spring delicacies then I encourage you to give it a go. It is such a wonderful way to spend some nice spring days outside with your family. You just need to be aware of what you are looking for, and always be aware of your surroundings, because spring may bring mushrooms, but it also brings snakes out. If you choose to venture into the hunting season, be careful out there and happy hunting.
To learn more about mushroom hunting and how to identify which mushrooms are edible go to the nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/activities/mushroom-hunting