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A Story with a Morel

Published on: Apr. 9, 2010

Morel mushroomsI know only two things about morels for certain.

Morel Fact No. 1: At least 11 were growing in southern Boone County yesterday. I can’t promise that you will find any if you run right down there, ‘cause I picked all 11. Even if I hadn’t, and even if you could find them, you would only have enough for a couple of mouthfuls. They were the small, gray variety that sprouts early in the season. If I am not mistaken, their scientific name is Morchella deliciosa, but I might very well be mistaken.

I increased my uncertainty about morels recently by visiting mushroomexpert.com. If you tend to be obsessive, you’ll love this website. It gets way down in the weeds about different morel varieties and how to tell them apart. Personally, I’d be thrilled just to have two different types in hand. Never mind what species they are, as long as I get to eat them.

Morel Fact No. 2: You are most likely to find morels where you found them before. Not very helpful, I know, but I would be lying if I said anything more definite about where to find morels. I have been reading and writing about them for well over 20 years, and I still have no idea why they grow where they grow.

The ones I found yesterday happened to be clustered around the base of a green ash tree. Lots of people--from experts to casual mushroom hunters--will tell you there is a connection between ash trees and morels. I have been trying to verify that bit of conventional wisdom for years. However, this bunch is the first I can honestly say I ever noticed growing near an ash tree.

Yesterday’s mess (pictured here) was growing in a boggy valley a mile from the nearest road. It was the last stop on a three-hour tour of all the spots where I have found morels in that area over the years. It’s also the spot where I experienced the biggest morel bonanza of my life, finding dozens of the big, beautiful, creamy to rusty yellow ones that most people call yellows and scientists call Morchella esculenta.

Morel mushroomsI have shown my morel spots to a few people, all younger than me. They are too busy with college or raising children to be much competition right now. If I’m lucky, they will have more leisure when I get too decrepit to visit those remote spots myself. Maybe they will bring me a mess from time to time.

I gave yesterday’s mess--such as it was--to a friend who has never eaten morels before. If he shows the appropriate degree of gratitude, I may show him the spot. After all, he’s a few years my junior.

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