Morels are America’s mushroom, more so than any other. It may be because they’re widespread, they’re easy to identify, and they come up in the spring, giving people a reason to get out and enjoy warm weather after a long winter. Or, it could be they’re popular simply because they taste so good. Morels are so prized they sell for up to $20 a pound in grocery stores in most locations. Here’s a quick guide to finding your own. Please note that although morels are easy to identify, this a hunting guide, not a field guide. If you have any doubt about a mushroom, don’t keep it.
Found in much of the U.S. from late March through May, the morel is our favorite mushroom: plentiful, easy to identify, and delicious. It has colorful names like Molly Moocher, Miracle, Dry land Fish—or, my favorite, Hickory Chickens—but mostly, people just call them “mushrooms” and it’s understood that means “morels.”
Identifying Safe Morels
Here are two morels in the wild. Notice the pits (in the top photo), the distinctive conical shape, and the way the bottom of the cap (the pitted part) is attached near the bottom of the stem. Avoid the half-free morel (bottom photo), which has a longer stem and a cap that attaches near the top, looking like an umbrella. These mushrooms can cause some people to have cramps or other forms of gastrointestinal distress.
Where to Look
Morels live in and on the edge of forested areas. Look for ash, aspen, elm, and oak trees, around which morels often grow. Early in the spring as the ground is warming, you’ll find them on south-facing slopes in fairly open areas. As the season progresses, go deeper into the woods and onto north-facing slopes.
Hunting morels is like bass fishing. You cover ground until you find one, then slow down and search the area carefully. Concentrate the rest of your hunt on similar areas, on the theory that you’ve found the “pattern” for the day.
Look For Dead Trees
Morels often grow around dead and dying trees. Old apple orchards make good hunting grounds. Always look around dead elm trees like this one. When a tree reaches the stage of decay where its bark is slipping off its trunk you’ll often find lots of morels around it.
Here you see morels sautéing in butter. Cooking in butter brings out their rich, almost meaty flavor. If I don’t have very many, I like to scramble them into eggs with some tarragon. Batter-fried morels are also very popular.
The bounty of spring, fork-ready. Serve with a breast of wild turkey or some fish fillets and it’s totally awesome!
Follow our FISHING BLOG