Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A day in GA - hopefully what's to come

Talk about being green with envy, check out this tortuous photo sent to me by camoshroomer from a morning hunt. Just a little shy of 500 nice yellows, greys, and blondes. Said he found about the same later that day. See what a short trip to GA can do for you. And the good thing about morels is that they are very easy to transport on any airplane. They travel quite nicely once they are battered, fried, and eaten.

Oops sorry, I got it wrong, as CamoShroomer pointed out in his comment the second photo is what they found that afternoon. Now that's what I'm talking about.

My morel fever is about 102 degrees so I'll probably be in the woods first thing tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll see you there [in the parking lot, not in m honey holes]. : )

Monday, March 30, 2009

Almost here - the northern march continues

This photo comes from Tim Johnson down in Laclede County. He came across seven little greys all found around an old apple tree. That puts them on the southern edge of Mid-MO and means I'll be out hitting my spots by the end of the week.

Not for picking mind you. The ones that should be up will still be pretty small like the ones in the photo. But I need to get a good picture or two and see how things are looking so I can decide where and when to check different areas. The best hunting usually isn't until the second or third week of April. That is when the greys grow big enough to become whites and yellows and are worth eating. Though if you ask me, and to quote a fellow hunted from Indiana, "greys are the best." So, I'll be sure to pick a few of them while they are small.

All this recent rain, if your best grounds aren't under water, will only be good for the harvest to come. I am hoping for another long, cool, wet season like last year.

Keep those reports coming and know that any I receive the next few days will be absolute torture for me, since I am stuck in Wisconsin through Wednesday. I am going to have to be careful when I drive back to Missouri. I already got one speeding ticket a few years ago when I was driving to hunt and I don't want another.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sick of snow...head south

Sorry folks, been busy working so I wasn't able to post any reports of recent MO finds the past few days. I checked them this morning and the morels are slowly marching north. The general rule is that they move about 100 miles north a week, or at least that's what some say. It's all in the weather.

Speaking of which we have some nasty stuff headed our way. I was hoping it would hit my area this morning so I could go check a very early spot and see if any were peaking out from the snow. I have always loved those shots. There is something about the way the morel stands out against the whiteness that I find appealing. If anyone happens to get some good snow morel shots, please send they my way.

For those of you still contemplating trips further south to satisfy that growing hunger, I knew this picture would come sooner or later. Some of us just can't wait. I'd admit, if I weren't so swamped with work, I'd probably have tried to talk him into taking me with him.

Here is Missouri's very own Camoshroomer who wasn't able to hit the Goergia woods until after 4 on Friday, but still managed to hunt up 150 before dark. I can only imagine how many he has found today. That picture makes my stomach rumble, so I guess it is off to the freezer to eat one of the few remaining frozen batches I have from last season.

Frying pan photos soon to come...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do Morels Grow?

That is a question of much debate. In fact, get a group of hunters together, if you can, and ask them and you are sure to start an argument. Here is a similar question left by an anonymous poster earlier today:
Anonymous said...I was under the impression that the entire morel grew underground and then 'popped up' when it could....So if you leave them they grow bigger? How much bigger? Why do you see old ones that have been up for a very long time that are still quite small, then?"

Well, here is my answer the title question of this post. Yes and no. To answer Mr. or Ms, anonymous, I must explain a few things I have come to believe about morels.

First, for all my fellow Show-Me stater, Pam Kiminski, who has documented many fungi with her exceptional photography conducted a "growth study" in 2000. In her photos which can be found here, you can clearly see the growth of the morel. I have conducted similar studies of my own with yellow morels around Mid-MO and seen similar results. But that does not mean all morels grow. There are so many variables that go into growing morels, which is one reason it took so long for mushroom growers to find a way to grow them indoors. Air and ground temps, precipitation, available nutrients in the soil and soil PH, exposure to wind and sun are just a few. With so many variables to consider, it is hard to say whether any morel will grow or not. I have left behind 5 small greys in a single patch and come back two weeks later to find 2 had become nice large yellows while 2 remained virtually unchanged and the remaining little fellow had dried up completely. So some do and some don't.

What I can tell you is that they do all start out very small and then can remain the same size until conditions are ripe for growth. I watched small greys early in the season last year take almost two weeks to grow an inch and then suddenly quadruple in size to almost 5 inches tall in only two days.

In my own experience, I believe air temperature is the major factor. In the case above the temps remained cool for the first three weeks of the season and then we had two days in which temps were between 70 and 80 degrees. This might explain why three or more days of temps above 80 mark the end to the season, as the mushrooms get large enough to fall over and begin to rot or dry up in the warmer enviroment.

I have also experienced the "popping" of morels that many hunters describe. It was in 2003 when Spring aroudn Columbia started out extremely dry with only a few sprinkles of rain for the first two weeks of April. I was out hunting around the 14th or 15th for about 3 hours thaht morning in one of my early spots thinking someting must be poking up through the leaves, yet I didn't see a dang thing. Then a storm front moved in very suddenly and it began to blow rain really hard and produce enough lightning that even a die-hard hunter like myself headed back to my vehicle for home. I caught some lunch and watched the sun come back out as the clouds retreated to the East about two hours later and headed back out to the spot I had been earlier. I was walking the trail I had walked not 2 hours earlier both in and back and what did I start seeing, morels everywhere along the trail. And not tiny teeny ones either. Some of these were 3 even 4 inches. At that moment I was convinced that morels really did just pop up. But looking back with some hindsight and more knowledge and experience, what I think happened was this.

The mushrooms were growing the whole time but were hidden, not under ground, mind you, but by the thick layer of leaves and other debris on the forest floor. It was, after all, Mid-April and even though it was dry, the area I was hunting was in the bottoms and there was sufficient moisture for morels to grow. I have found morels in this area since in very dry seasons, such as 2006, when not a drop of rain had fallen for almost three weeks.

I am sure you are wondering, so how did they pop up? Here is what I think happened. The morels had grown under the leaves to the point where the combined rain and wind from the storm front would easily exposed them giving me the impression that they had popped up in only a few hours.

Well, that's my thoughts on the matter. I am sure that there are plenty of other hunetrs out there willing to set me straight. That's waht I like most about morels and mushrooms in general. Science has done little research on them, leaving a lot of mystery and reinforcing the mushroom hunters' adage "morels grow where they want, when they want." All this speculation can be useless after all. The only real trick to mushroom hunting is being in the right place at the right time. So, heck, believe what you want, as long as you come home with a nice mess of morels who really cares. I know I don't.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Southern Morels

Just in case that little red dot didn't get your morel blood a flwoin', check out these photos sent to me by camoshroomer. To answer your first question, no, they are not from Missouri, so don't rush out to your truck and hightail it over to your honey hole. These lovely photos were sent from his brother, who ignored advice from his fellow southerners who told him morels didn't grow in Georgia and got out there and found out the truth for himself. Very nice finds for his first hunt ever in that southern state.

So, if you just can't wait a few more weeks, you may be surprised, flights are pretty cheap these days. Compared to last year, the cost of your average weekend hunting with $3 a gallon gas may have been more expensive. Anyway, if you do head down to the peach state keep an eye out for camoshroomer. I have a feeling he might be visiting his brother real soon, if he isn't there already. Be sure to say hello for me if you run into him.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Let the Madness Begin - The First Morel Report in Missouri

Forget reds, if you are down south, it's time to get the real thing.

That's right folks, from the far southern parts of the state comes the first Missourian to hit the message boards and report a find near Branson, MO. Long ago I stopped trying to gauge the veracity of these early reports. No matter what proof you have this early in the season, many people won't believe you. So, I just take folks at their word. If someone lies, only they miss out, since they do not have any morels to eat. Besides it's about time for a report to stream in from either Branson or Poplar Bluff. The black morels should be starting to pop down there, especially this past weekend and the next few days of warm and perhaps wet weather.

The first find brings back another installment of the Missouri Morel Progress Map, which will soon take up its temporary residence the next month or so in the upper right hand corner of the website. I have found these maps useful in the past and it was a good way to track progress as the morel hunting marches steadily north. I will do what I can to try and update it regularly, but once the season hits my area, I am not making any promises as I'll be in the woods every chance I get.

So, for now enjoy the first red dot and know that soon dots will be in your area. If you are one of the lucky ones to find some morels or any other edibles in the coming weeks, be sure to drop me line and report you find and I will add a dot to the map for you. So start stretching those legs and getting your gear ready. It soon will be on.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Debate over Reds - To Eat or Not to Eat

As early reports begin to trickle in on the boards, often people mention finding false morels or "reds." These are usually a form of Gyromitra brunnea or Gyromitra Caroliniana. Many people believe these to be actual morels. In fact, a few years ago, I saw an article in the paper showing a man holding a very large one (I think it weighed about 1 1/2 pounds) with the headline of something like giant morel. So even journalists often make the same mistake, but these are not true morels.

The question that everyone seems to ask me is whether or not these are edible. And at first I would reply with an adamant know and argue my case. However, after arguing my case for over a decade, I decided not to push it anymore. I do not eat them; however, I can see how any hunter, not having found a single morel, might be tempted to pick and eat false morels when they find a nice patch and nothing else.

There are two forms of mushrooms that often get mistaken for morels in Missouri. Gyromitras that I mentioned before and wrinkle cap verpas. Both can easily be discernedfrom true morels by cutting the stock lengthwise. If it is hollow it is a true morel. If it is hairy or has threadlike stuff inside it is a verpa. If it is solid or mainly solid with chambers, it is more than likely a Gyromitra. Since the verpas are not as common or at least harder to see and therefore less encountered, I won't talk about them. You can learn more about them at here

To the right is another reason why "reds" are so tempting as mycologist Jay Justice, who often shows up at Missouri Mycology Society forays, is seen taking photos of some big old G. carolinianas. So, are they poisonous? The only know deaths in the US from false morels were from ones found in the Rockies and to the west, probably the conifer false morel. However, ll mushrooms in this species contain a compound that breaks down with water to become MMH (monomethylhydrazine). It is hard to say how much of the toxin is in the mushrooms you find and how much you cook off. Also, individual toxin levels vary so one person may have a much higher threshhold.

Let me sum up the debate with some experts:

First, here is John Trestrail, retired chairman of the Toxicology Committee of the North American Mycological Association and managing director of Spectrum Health Regional Poison Centre in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He sees this type of poisoning in the upper midwest and sums up the danger.
"Persons who decide to continue this gastronomic gamble should have the number of their regional poison centers engraved on their eating utensils". (from http://www.innvista.com/health/foods/mushrooms/morel.htm)
That is good advice for any bold wild mushroom eater. When it comes to mother nature, I prefer to fall on the side of caution.

Second here is what David Arora, author of one of my favorite guides, Mushrooms Demystified, has to say about the Gyromitras:
Several species...are dangerously poisonous raw, yet are eaten without ill effect by many people. The apparent contradiction can be explained by two facts (1) the toxin MMH is extremely volatile, i.e. it is usually removed by cooking or drying, and (2)there is a very narrow threshold between the amount of MMH the human body can "safely" absorb and the amount that will cause poisoning and even death. It seems foolhardy to risk eating the mmh-containing species, yet many people do...If you MUST try them, then ALWAYS either dry them or out (then rehydrate and cook them) or parboil them first and throw out the water, being sure not to inhale the cooking vapors (which contain MMH), then saute them. NEVER EAT THEM RAW and never eat a large amount. (page 799, 2nd ed.

Keep in mind that there are reports every year of false morels causing some ill effects on some. Though less serious, these cases of gastronomical distress can be no more pleasant and often lead those who have them to shun wild mushrooms altogether. So if you see the false morels first starting out, try to be patient and know that the real thing is only a week or so away.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morel Season - The Real March Madness

Well from the increase in comments on this blog and from the explosion of posts on the many morel report boards, it looks like most of you are just like me, and beginning to get real antsy to get back out in the woods and have a look around. I must admit, I have been able to resist the urge so far, knowing full well that ground and air temps are still pretty low, but with such warm weather it is really hard. I can't wait to see these little guys again.

It is a primal urge almost impossible to ignore. Every time I get into the car I find myself noting certain trees here and there. Morels begin to seep into my dreams, both those when I'm sleeping and when I'm sitting in meetings at work or eating with my family. Even when I do not have morels on my mind, they pop up everywhere. For example in the locker room before a workout the other day, I couldn't help but overhear two people talking about past finds and disappointments and the promise of the upcoming season. As the season approaches these conversation become all too commonplace. From the cashier line at the grocery store, nearby diners at a local eatery or even waiting for the dentist. In March and April, all minds seem to be focused on the wonderful morsel that is the morel. What I think of as the true Missouri "gold."

I suspect some reports will be coming in very soon from the southern part of the state. People usually begin report finding black morels by mid-March in areas around Branson and Poplar Bluff.

I do hope the moisture picks up between now and then. It has been a rather dry season in my area and although this recent batch of rain will help, the long-term forecast does not look as promising. But this is Missouri and if you don't like the weather just wait a day, it's bound to change.

Getting back to reports, if any of you find one please let me know. If it is soon, then I would suggest sending a photo with your find and a dated newspaper. I'll take people at their word, but morel hunters, especially early in the season before anyone has found anything, take on a real "Show Me" attitude to claims by anyone, even seasoned hunters like myself.

The photo to the right is of the first morel I picked last year on April 4th (the one on the left). I left the others along with many more in this area and came back and got them a week later when they were of a size worth picking. Happy hunting.