Michigan morels – the season will start soon. Are you ready? The exact date those delectable nuggets of fungi will actually pop out has been an important question for Michiganders for … ever. Traditionally, May is Morel month. But – depending on the weather and where in the state you will be hunting – it is possible to find them as early as April and to keep finding them until June.
What is a Morel?
It’s a mushroom. A very tasty mushroom. Because they are wild mushrooms, they are both elusive and expensive. They can’t be “farmed” (like portobello, crimini, button, etc.). Morels have a “meaty” texture and an earthy, nutty flavor and are prized by chefs/food fans everywhere.
They are one of the easiest mushrooms to identify. However, they do vary quite a bit in terms of size and appearance. Their color ranges from blonde to gray/black. Shapes can also range. But it is their exterior, which looks like a honeycomb, that distinguishes them. On the inside, they are white and hollow.
When they first start showing up in April, they can be pretty small – the size of your thumb or even smaller. But they will get larger as the season progresses. In later spring, they might even reach 4 or 5 inches tall. However, you might not want to “wait.” They are in such high demand that if you wait for the big ones, someone else will beat you to them.
Beware the False Morel
There is one mushroom that does look fairly similar to a morel. This “false morel” can be poisonous. But you can tell a real morel from one of these fakes by slicing it open. False morels are not hollow. Morels are. False morels are reddish-brown to yellow in color and have a cap that seems to hang off to the side. As with all wild mushrooms, you should forage with an experienced mushroom hunter. You should also bring along a mushroom identification book.
When can you find morels?
Morels can be found in every county in Michigan. In southern Michigan, the morel season can start as early as mid-April. It can continue until mid-June in the Upper Peninsula. It’s not about a date on a calendar. It’s all about the weather – specifically temperatures.
Morels like warmth and need daytime temperatures of at least 50 degrees. They want it “warm” at night, with night temps of at least 40 degrees. They also like a little “dampness.” So after a warm, spring shower, get out and start looking.
Honestly, as long as it is staying warm enough at night, any time is the right time to look for morels. Getting outdoors in the spring is always a good idea.
Where can you find morels?
Successful morel hunters are not about to squeal about their favorite spots. But we do know a few things:
- Morels could turn up pretty much anywhere in a forest, wooded area, or even a backyard.
- They like the edge of wooded areas, especially with aspen, elm, oak, and ash nearby
- Morels seem to gravitate to bases of dead or dying trees
- They like “recently disturbed” areas – like burn sites (especially when jack, white or red pine once grew) or lightly traveled trails through the woods
- Morels like company. If you find one, stop! There are likely more, so look around within 20 feet or so of your first find.
- They visit Mesick, MI, every year for the Mesick Mushroom Festival. This year’s festival is scheduled for May 6-8.
Please keep in mind that you should hunt on public land only. If you are on private land, it should be your land. Don’t trespass.
The best way to harvest a morel is to cut it off at the base with scissors or a knife. But cut (or pinch) off the stem at ground level so the “roots” can remain and grow another. Carry a basket with you. Stuffing a bunch of morels into a small plastic bag is not a great idea. Let them breathe and have some space.
They grow in the wild, so be prepared to do a little cleaning. Check your gathered mushrooms for critters like bugs and worms. There’s no reason to avoid morels with worms, as long as you take the time to pick them off. Cleaning them off with a dry pastry brush will also eliminate any dirt and debris.
A quick google search will reveal many delightful ways to cook and eat morels. But sometimes, the simplest preparations are the best. After cleaning them well, pat them dry and then saute them until brown in a hot pan with a little oil. You can add some butter partway through. Add a little salt and pepper, and then watch them disappear.
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