Mushroom Hunter

I’ve only found one. “Found” might be too generous of a term for what happened. Tripped is probably more accurate even if it makes me sound like the klutz that I probably am.

Miraculously, the morel mushroom survived the impact with my foot, its top cut clean off the stem but still whole and undamaged. I carefully picked it up and stuck it in the netting pocket of my backpack. Please don’t get crushed now, I thought, imagining what I would do with this single mushroom when we got home from our hike.

Warm spring weather sends morels popping up through the dried leaves of a Wisconsin woods. They are a wily bunch – resisting easy detection with their brown spongy heads. Accomplished morel hunters zealously guard their mushrooming grounds. I know a few of them. “Maybe I’ll take you sometime,” says a friend. “But you’ll have to be blindfolded.” I laugh but then realize she’s not joking. Morels are the truffles of Wisconsin. Now if only I could get a morel sniffing pig…

Advice on how to find morels is plentiful. Look by dead or dying elms, they say. Old apple orchards, pine trees, old ash, or old poplar. The advice all assumes I can easily identify these trees, particularly when dead or dying. I look at pictures and study tree guides.

Ferns but no morels yet...

But out in the woods, I just walk and scan, walk and scan, hoping to spot that elusive brown cap. No luck yet. I’m not yet worthy of the shirt I spotted in the window of a Czech Village store in Cedar Rapids: Morel Mushroom Master. The store boasted a full line of mushroom lovers gear and even had two 18 inch carved wooden morels in the window.

My one morel made it home safely from the hike. I carefully washed it and then sauteed it in butter. Divided into two servings, the small slices equalled about a teaspoon of food each for me and my husband. But it was an intoxicating taste of a hunt that I’ve only just begun.

Check out this great morel mushroom poem from poet Jane Whitledge.

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