Mushroomers Are A Breed All Their Own

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This year I joined an elite group of people…”shroomers.” This is a term that we Michiganders call mushroom hunters this time of year who are really serious about their finds. Mushrooms are squirrely little members of the fungus family who are in an elite group all their own.

Morels are found in most areas of the United States except in the desert. However, the Great Lakes region is the hot bed for the mighty morel. Perhaps that is why there is always such a stir this time of year around my neck of the woods.

Morels like 60- to 70-degree F temperatures during the day with temps not dipping any lower than 40 degrees F overnight. Not only do they like it not too hot and not too cold, but also not too wet and not too dry. They can be found after a frost and after a snow and also before and after a good rain storm or not at all. See why the hunt is so challenging?

So, every year in the Midwest there is this steady progression. In a “normal” year, whatever normal is, they usually appear in Indiana and Ohio first since those states are further south and spring comes a little earlier than in Michigan. Then, a couple weeks later, they start showing up in lower Michigan and eventually in northern Michigan. When lilacs bloom in your area it is usually a good sign that mushrooms will be popping also.

I have always gone out in the woods and hunted here in lower Michigan. But, in my book, to be a true “shroomer,” you have to follow the progression and head north to hunt the persnickety fungus. Michigan is a peninsular state and the Mackinaw Bridge separates the two pieces of land. Those that live north of the bridge are referred to as “Yoopers” while we who live under the bridge are affectionately known as “trolls.” This troll has never headed north to mushroom hunt until this year. Ron, who is an Indiana Hoosier, wanted to head north. Thus, I earned my official shroom crown this year.

The areas around Cadillac, Baldwin and Mesic are favorite hot spots, if there is such a thing. Almost every shroomer has his or her favorite spot and if you ask them they will tell you the general area to scout, but not a one will reveal exactly where they find the tasty morsels. This is the part I never could understand. The mighty morel is so elusive that you can find a bushel in one spot one year and may never find another one in that spot again. So, is there really any such thing as a hot spot for shrooms!

This is almost like a secret pact between mushroom hunters. You don’t really ask someone where to go to hunt and you never really tell anyone either. All the locals in the north at gas stations, diners and other establishments where we shroomers visit either tell us “the season was short this year, no one’s found any since last week, it’s too wet, it’s too dry, they are finding bushels” … etc. In other words, don’t bother to ask because you will never get a straight answer. People are pretty protective of their shrooming spots.

Nevertheless, I was excited and confident that we would find at least a nice mess of them. After all, we were in northern Michigan, it was mid-May and lilacs were blooming. All the right signs for them to be out, but they weren’t. It rained on the way up; I didn’t care, I’d been wet before and, besides, rain was good for mushrooms. I knew that dead or dying elms, old apple orchards, old ash trees, poplar trees and even under pine trees were good places to look. We looked under countless dead elms. Nothing.

I didn’t get it. After all, this is not just a theory, it is backed by science. As the bark falls off the dead elm trees it nourishes the ground below, leaving nutrients in the soil that morels thrive on. This fact holds true for a 15 foot radius of the tree.

Perhaps this is why mushroom season is so elusive. You can have the same conditions, all the right conditions as the previous year, and still find nothing. Deer and big game hunters have nothing on us, hunting the mighty morel is the ultimate hunt. On top of that, many of us hunters are farmers and gardeners and other outdoor people who find this the hardest time of year to get away. I can just picture the morels laughing so hard that they are shedding their spores at all of us traveling two to three hours to look for them when we have a dozen other things that need done to home.

Speaking of spores, which is precisely how mushrooms reproduce, it would be logical to think they would re-populate the same area year after year. Not so again. Many friends gave us tips on where to look. We drove down countless little paths where all the conditions looked right only to find another hunter’s vehicle already there. This is another unspoken rule: when you see another vehicle, you hang back, don’t encroach on their space and go find a spot of your own.

Even though this excursion inducted me into the official shroomer’s club, we came home skunked. Yep, we are not ashamed to admit it, but we are too proud to cave in and buy our shrooms like some people do. Some just have a hard time admitting defeat to the mighty shroom and buy the little morsels at upwards of $60 a pound. That’s a bit salty just to not admit defeat.

Of course, there are those who profess that they found bushels upon bushels. It’s hard to tell what these folks like better, whether it be the taste, the hunt or the bragging. Did I say bragging? Oh yeah, because every time they tell the story the mushrooms get bigger and more plentiful. Kind of like the big fish tales you hear.

I really don’t mind admitting defeat, because even though we didn’t find any, we got to spend a day in great north woods in the warm sunshine, smell all the fresh spring scents of the forest, get good exercise and eat our first picnic lunch of the season. How can all this not make you a winner? Besides that, there is always next year!