Finding Morel Mushrooms

When hunting for the elusive morel mushroom, learn what to look for, how to identify the type and discover a few tricks to help you hunt — or just grow your own!

  • Children will enjoy helping collect morels for the family.
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • It helps to study a morel to help your eyes adjust and pick out the mushroom.
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • A patch of morels will easily blend in with surrounding dried leaves. Walk slowly, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t find any right away. Even the trained eyes of an expert hunter can take awhile to spot the first morel of the season, or even of the day.
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • Take a walk around your property looking for the morel “sweet spots.”
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • Family foraging trips are great educational experiences for children and adults.
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • A basket of morels is the makings of a delightful spring supper.
    Photo by Olga K. Cotter
  • The Verpa bohemica, a “false morel,” contains toxins not safe for consumption.
    Photo by Getty Images/Ressaure

My alarm clock pulls me out of a dream — a vision of honeycombed patterns and boots sloshing through wet hunting grounds, my basket so full I have to weave branches into the sides to make walls to keep them all from falling over the edges. It’s 4 a.m. I’m already tired from hunting morels all night long in my sleep, but my eyes are tuned and I quickly realize it’s time to do the real thing. I am suddenly more alert than usual, realizing the excitement is just a couple hours drive away to make that dream come true.

I start the coffee, and wake up my wife, Olga. I whisper to her, “It’s time!” while our daughter Heidi sleeps in. We carefully assemble in the kitchen for coffee and tea and continue to wake up and discuss our plans. The previous night we had gathered the items that we would need for the trip and they were already loaded into the back of my car: baskets, paper bags, knives, boots, a cooler, maps, snacks, bottled water, and walking sticks. The areas we go to typically are off the beaten path, so taking rations of food and drinks is a must since we typically hunt a few different spots. Olga is the master chef who makes amazing sandwiches, and she quickly constructs six, two for each of us, and I put them into the cooler with some ice packs. We double feed the chickens and animals with expectations of coming back late — we hope.

The weather outside is chilly at 5 a.m., but it is expected to rise into the mid-50s Fahrenheit. We bundle up the sleeping Heidi like a burrito in a fuzzy blanket and transplant her into the car in a nest of more blankets to keep her sleeping for the drive to the hunting grounds. She wakes momentarily, confused by the disturbance and new location, but she’s used to it and falls back to sleep. It’s still dark as we pull out of the driveway, and we make our way to our secret spots, occasionally glancing in the rearview mirror looking for followers in a scene from a Hollywood spy movie.

As we arrive at 6:30 a.m. at the first spot in a series of a well-planned and strategic routes, the twilight is beginning to reveal the road edges. As we slowly descend in elevation to the first spot, we can make out the trees and plants that line the gravel drive. “Look! Redbud blooms … open!” Olga exclaims. “It’s time, they should be here.”

With every turn down the winding road, anxiety builds with the possibility of someone beating us to our spots. It happens sometimes. When someone beats you to the spot, they can clean it out, leaving cut, hollow “stumps” of stems and leaving you with a feeling of defeat. But luckily, this day is different — we are here first.

Olga, Heidi, and I race to the spot in competition even amongst ourselves to find the first morels. It takes a while. Even after hours of dreaming, visions of hexagonal patterns burned into your retinas, it’s always difficult to spot the first one. That is the challenge: to calibrate your vision and overcome the discovery of the first hiding morel.

3/28/2019 9:00:42 PM

Hello, just wanted to say: Verpa bohemica is edible. It's just a legend that it's toxic. You can find a report online where the authors attempted to find any evidence of Verpa poisoning, and there is none in the record. Some people are sensitive to some mushrooms and should sample a small amount first to make sure there is no stomach discomfort, but it cannot poison you in a serious or lasting way.

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