Saturday, May 01, 2010

2010 Morel FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

First and foremost I must answer this question, since it is on most people's minds...

Is the season over in Missouri?
My short and simple answer is yes and no. OK, maybe that is not simple. I'll explain what I mean.

The days of motherlode hauls are most likely over. Now, I am not saying that you can't find an area no one has hunted yet and come across a haul of huge yellows. That is still probable, but with all the hunters that have hit the woods, it is less likely. This is why I don't go out anymore. I concentrate my hunting during the prime of the season to hit those motherlode days, so I don't have to spend hours and miles looking for a few good yellows at the end of the season. That is how I can resist not being out in the woods. I have picked my share and have my coffers filled for the year. Now it is time to get back to work and all of the stuff I have put off the last few weeks.

A tip for those trying to put morels out of their mind. Go where they are not. Right now I am in Orlando Florida. absolutely no chance of finding a morel here. No one has ever found a morel in Florida. It is the only one of the 50 states that has no reports of morels. Not that I am not tempted try to be the first one to do so. But it is too late for that and I'll have to save that for next March.

I explained my yes answer, but let me talk about the no. If you still want to find some or didn't get your fill, don't give up hope just yet. Just look in the deepest and darkest parts of the woods, down in those deep ravines and through the thick underbrush. Basically, anywhere that doesn't see the light of day too much. Don't expect to find much, but you can still get a good meal if you put in the time.
Keep in mind that some (maybe even most) will be rotten and no good but push past that and keep looking. There is still hope. I have actually seen a photo from a very reliable source (a non-morel hunter and co-worker) who found three morels the first week of June when they moved a 20 foot brush pile. Underneath it all down in the darkness, three morels had grown IN JUNE. That was in southern Boone county. Even the MO conservation department says that can be found that late. They are just hard to see among the monster undergrowth that takes over in May.

Why was it such a screwy year?

Two words, the weather. The spring started off good with lots of rain, but by the time ground temps picked up, the rain had ceased and only the moisture rich bottoms really flushed. And even they weren't wet enough to flush like they usually do. So the usual suspect trees, especially sugar maples, who have been reliant for years went dormant.

Before I continue let me say that once again this is all just my own speculation from my observations and so this is just my opinion. Also note that I mainly stick to the bottoms in the spring, and haven't really walked the hills for the last 7 years. I broke an ankle at that time and had to have a few surgeries and boy does it hurt when I try to walk the hills for a few hours. So with all that being said, here is my own hypothesis about the hills.

In the past it seemed that the hills flush usually 5 to 10 days later than the bottoms. This year we had pretty good rain and moisture at the end of March and the bottoms flushed a little later than normal due to cooler temps (though just three days later). When the hills came really due to flush the second week of April, we had windy dry weather, where it topped 85 around Columbia for 7 straight days. Places in the hills that couldn't retain moisture, dried up and didn't flush. The bottoms produced OK once you figured out that maples were not producing and the morels were mainly to be found around cottonwoods. By the time the rain did finally come and things cooled down a bit, I think ground temps had risen too much to encourage any additional flushes in the Mid-MO area. The bottoms always do fairly well in dry years because they hold a lot of moisture even after two weeks of no rain.

And for those who don't think they pop early, I bet you missed out this year, because I was started picking on April 4, which was only three days later than the previous three years.

That's my short answer at least. I would love for some of you hill hunters to let me know you're own experiences this year to see if they support my guesstimation. For example, were the ones you found in places where the soil held moisture or did that not matter? Did you find more in the valleys, on the slopes, or on the ridges? and if on the slopes, where did you generally find more, near the top, the middle, or the bottom? Any input would be much appreciated. Morels are so complex of an organism that I doubt there is anyway one person could figure them out so we need to pool some general information to, as they would say in the research world "triangulate our data" and figure these little buggers out.

What is your favorite mushroom to eat and hunt?

Someone just asked this in the comments section of a post but for those of you who missed it. I thought I would answer it here. By far my favorite mushroom to hunt is the morel. It's elusive nature from year to year, the way it blends into its environment, the fact that it is the first yummy edible mushroom to appear after a long cold winter, and all the dang competition, make it the trophy mushroom for hunters. I doubt you will ever see hunters more proud when they are showing off a nice mess of morels they just found. And the rush you get when you stumble on a patch of morels does not compare with any other mushroom. Although a giant hen of the woods or chicken mushroom can come awfully close.

That being said, my favorite mushroom to eat is much different. I mention one in comment, the chanterelles, specifically the black trumpet. I can never get enough of them and their texture is so unlike any other mushroom when fresh. A chewy crispness when cooked properly, much like their cousins but they are more ephemeral and also one hard mushroom to find unless they are growing in abundance which they often do. After all, the common name wouldn't be horn of plenty for no reason.

However, a very close tie is the harder to find sweet tooth or hedge hog mushroom. It is not really fair to compare them with other mushrooms, because they cook completely different. Whereas most mushrooms being made largely of water shrink due to a loss of liquid during cooking, sweet tooth do the exact opposite. They actually absorb liquid and thus absorb the flavors of whatever you are cooking them with. This is very unique and when paired properly can lead to some amazingly deep and rich flavors from a mushroom. I would highly recommend trying these guys if you happen to come across them in the summer or fall.

And if you have any other questions please leave them in a comment or send me an email. I promise to answer each one personally and some may be good as a follow up to this FAQ post.

(photo of poor morel taken by camoshroomer as he mourned the passing of the season)