Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oregon Mountain Black Morels

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I was on vacation in Oregon camping, hiking, biking, and if possible I was hoping to maybe find a mushroom or two. The week started off slow mushroomwise. The west has had a clod wet spring which meant that a lot of mountain areas still had lots of snow so we mainly stuck to other outdoor activities.

However while hiking a orgeous trail along some falls in the McKenzie River Valley we did come across some hedgehogs. They had come up last fall and overwintered in th snowpack. We found many that were mushy and rooten as they thawed out, but here and there you would find one that was firm and fresh still after the thaw. That gave me my first taste of mushroom hunting so I had to look more.

We also found the one truly deadly false morel, gyromitra esculenta, which is the one false morel that has documented deaths associated with it. As you can see from the photo, it is very dark in color. It also has a truly hollow stem, so it is pretty easy to identify compared to other false morels you find in the mountains out west, which is primarily the snowbank false morel or gyromitra gigas, which looks a lot like the g. carolinas that I find in my area except it is brown instead of red.

These were all good signs that morels could be out there, so we kept moving north and got to Mt. Hood National Forest. I checked in at the ranger station to ask about which trails were open to hiking or biking, but as I started talking with the ranger I noticed a fellow next to me was filling out forms for a mushroom picking permit. Naturally, I had to ask and found out that many people had been getting permits in the last week and they were free for those picking for personal consumption. I quickly filled out the forms and provided my I.D. to verify my identity. In return, I got a permit and a really detailed map of the area showing area where you could and could not look for mushrooms.

With over 295,917 acres, it was quite daunting to decide where to begin in the area. Most of the area in the higher elevations was still covered in snow, so that helped limit it a bit. The map limited it a bit more. After talking mushrooms with the two rangers for about five minutes and winning them over, they finally gave up some key information, suggesting a part of the park with southern slopes and lots of ponderosa pine, so I headed out.

I was with an old friend who was not into mushroom hunting, but was nice enough to indulge my passion. As we were driving in and I was trying to find a nice south facing slope
to begin, I made my friend Mike slow down so I could do some recon. Suddenly I spotted something a little darker and pointed straight up amongst the pine cones and needles littering the side of the road.

Mike stopped and I got out and sure enough there was a nice black morel. I looked around and found about 8 more in that area and took this video.

I continued to hunt along the road for about an hour while Mike rode his bike around the trails in the area. Here is another video of an along the road find. Notice the car going by in the background. Luckily I was hidden behind some small evergreens and was not seen.

We had walkie talkies and he kept seeing other folks out mushroom hunting, so I knew I was in the right area. We actually scared quite a few people as our walkies rang out in the woods. I guess most people aren't used to that kind of communications as they usually just yell back and forth while hunting (if you can hear this, it is also a useful way to gather some information about what is hitting). Here is a video where you can hear Mike checking in to see where I am at just as I was recording a find.

We were trying to figure out where to go next when we met some folks who Mike had ran into earlier in the woods. I was taking a photo for my kids using some stuffed animals to document my trip like in that one commercial and I think that sparked their curiosity so they stopped.

After some introductions, we explained that we were out on vacation and had decided to try and find some morels. They asked if we had found any and I showed them our finds at the time, which was about 30 morels. I guess showing them that we could find them brought them around a bit and we began talking a bit more. They gradually started opening up more and telling me about some of their own recent and past finds in the area. After about 20 minutes they said they were moving on to do some road hunting and to check a few more areas and surprised us when they asked us if we wanted to tag along. Most people are very secretive about their spots, but our good nature and my passion for mushrooms must have won them over.

Our hosts, who wish to remain anonymous online, were incredibly generous. When they found out Mike had never found a mushroom before, it became their first task to make sure he would find his first. This was great because I couldn't get MIke to hunt with me, but he is too nice to strangers to say no, so he was forced to get a taste of the hunt. We continue to hunt with them for the rest of the afternoon into the early evening.

They also hunted other mushrooms and it was great to swap stories of hunting and discuss the differences between hunting out West compared to the Midwest. One of our hosts was originally from Michigan, so I got a few classic stories from there as well. After hunting with them we had easily collected our limit for the day, which was one gallon. We gladly gave half of them to one of our hosts who had not found as many and still ended up with over 50 morels coming in just over a pound (they were still fairly small because of the cooler than usual spring).

We camped in the area that night which was free because it was before the official season began and just walking around camp I found tem more on the edge of of trails and the road. I didn't see a pattern in regards to trees. Now I don't know my evergreens like I do the deciduous trees back home, but I can tell a few pines and western cedars and blue spruce. I found morels by all of them. The key seemed to be disturbed areas like OTV or game trails, along roadways, and in sections that had been logged a while ago.

In the end I could not have asked for a better day of hunting. Found plenty of mushrooms, learned a lot of new tricks about a brand new area, I got to find my first black morels of the year, which to me have a richer flavor and are preferred despite their more delicate nature. And most importantly, I got to make some new friends in the mushroom world.

And being like most mushroomers I have met these were really good people. One even knew the director of operations at a local ski resort and hooked us up with comp tickets and a nice discount for rentals. We were already planning to ski the next day. Besides mushroom hunting, there is nothing more I love than skiing, so getting to ski at one of the primo facilities where the US olympians train in the summer for only $20 was the icing on the cake to a perfect trip.

A big thanks goes out to the mushroom hunter who set it all up. You are the best, to not only share your comp tickets but for sharing your knowledge and secrets to finding mountain morels after meeting two strangers from out of town. Very few would be so kind and generous and you can expect an early delivery of morels from the Midwest next year. You really made the end of the trip exceptional and gave us some great stories to share around future campfires.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Late Season Missouri Morels

Believe it or not but with all this cool weather there are still morels around to be had. You may also find a few rotten ones but if you keep looking eventually you can come across some real beauties.

Generally late season morels are those big beer can yellows like the one in my hand a few pictures below, but if you luck out you can find some nice fresh ones like the one to the left.

This one is actually a diferent type of morel than I usually find. I was lucky enough to be told about a patch of "small morels" by some friends who were out letterboxing when they stumbled across a nice motherlode (which proves that some of the best finds are just found by getting out in the woods). They said they were all small which was unusual compared to the big yellows they had found in other areas. That was my first clue that they could be the true late season morel, Morchella deliciosa When I located the spot, which was an adventure in itself due to the mischievous nature of the letterboxers, I soon realized that they were indeed m. deliciosa. In an old Missouri Conservationist story, they have a little more information.
Late Morel (Morchella deliciosa)
  • Appears after all other species are overmature or gone.
  • Their small size (1-3 inches) is disappointing compared to giants.
  • Pits are large and few compared to other species.
  • The least understood and most often overlooked species.
  • Excellent flavor, but often difficult to find enough for a meal.
They say you can find them well into May if you look hard enough and find the right spot. The ones I found were pictured here in the top row.

Notice how they have smaller and more pointed tops. Also if you take a closer look at the photo, you will notice how the pits are vertically arranged (the ridges run pretty much straight up and down the cap), more like black morels. I also found those grays and that big yellow today and placed them in the photo for shape, size, and pit comparison. They are the common morel or Morchella esculenta I had to go dark and deep to find those few. By dark and deep, I mean go way off trail into those deep dark ravines and draws in the hills, or in this case a large city park.

The thing about late season hunting is that if you are hunting the regular yellow morels they are easy to find. I saw this one from 100 feet through some pretty thick bush honeysuckle. It was a meal in itself.

The true late season morels are much, much harder to find. First they are tiny so seeing them is tough and then they are incredible hiders because of their small size. Take this video for example:

And a big thanks to I Dig Toasters and MOUR4ME for telling me about thee little guys, so I could find and document them on my blog and get a good taste of late morels. They are tiny but very tasty in my book.

What was best about these was that they were in another city park. Just a small section of woods that is in the middle of a neighborhood. Just goes to show, you never know what you will find in any old small patch of woods until you get out there and look. I am not saying you will always find something, but sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised.