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The Incredible, Edible...Morel

Apr 27, 2009

Morel mushroomsWhen I moved to Missouri 23 years ago, I was amazed at the passion that exists here for the spring ritual of hunting morel mushrooms. I doubt that we are unique among the states in that respect, but it’s hard for me to imagine that there is another state with a stronger interest among its citizens. The habit has rubbed off on me such that I now make trips to the spring woods for the primary purpose of hunting morels. It would be a disappointing spring if I didn’t at least get a taste of them.

April in Missouri is the prime time for hunting the most popular common morel (Morchella esculenta). The peak hunting period varies with soil moisture and temperature, but the third week of April is often the best time to go in central Missouri. We’ve had plenty of rain here and are now getting the needed warmer temperatures, so there is hope for a good season.

Where to look for morels is the eternal question, and serious hunters will all have their own tried-and-true methods. Some of the more accepted wisdom is to look around dead or alive elm, ash or apple trees. I have also found them under oaks, cedars and cottonwoods; so I don’t tend to go out of my way to locate particular tree species. I do think the odds are better if I go to areas where I have found morels before. It makes it more fun, too, to have a mental list of favorite spots to check each spring instead of wandering aimlessly.

If you are lucky enough to find, or be given, morels, you have several options for cooking them. Personally, I think it is hard to beat just sautéing them in butter or olive oil with a little salt, but there are plenty of more elaborate recipes. Good hunting!

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