‘EPIC’ MOREL SEASON IS PREDICTED
Reprinted with permission of the News-Leader
Temperatures are warming nicely, and there’s been plenty of rain.
And expert morel mushroom hunter Ron Cook is already getting excited.
“We’re in for an epic morel season in Missouri,” said Cook. “The conditions are really right for them. The season ahead will be one of our more fruitful ones than we’ve had in the last couple of years.”
Cook is founder of the Missouri Morel Hunting Facebook page, which tracks the appearance of the tasty wild mushrooms as they begin to show, first in the southwest corner of the state and then northward as the weather warms.
“The rain and warmth that’s coming this weekend, with temperatures in the 70s during the day and 50s at night, provides absolutely ideal conditions for morels,” Cook said.
There’s a map and a guide
He started the Missouri Morel Hunting page six years ago to share his passion for finding and tracking morels across the state. The site provides a map showing where morel hunters have confirmed finding the delicacies.
“At first the Facebook page was just for some friends and a few family members, and it started with five or six people,” Cook said. “But it really went up from there. Now we have close to 90,000 people following us.”
Morel hunting is an Ozarks tradition, one that’s encouraged by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Because some mushrooms in the wild are poisonous, MDC has produced a free booklet: “A Guide to Missouri’s Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms.”
It’s available for free at MDC’s Springfield regional office, 2630 N. Mayfair Ave., and will soon be available for free at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, 4601 S. Nature Center Way in southeast Springfield. The booklet can also be viewed at nature.mdc.mo.gov.
Other helpful tips
With an “epic” morel season ahead, Cook reminded morel hunters to get permission first from private property owners before heading into a promising area. Morels can also be found on public lands, like MDC conservation areas.
No permit is needed to harvest morels, but Cook recommends morel hunters use a mesh carrying bag or other kind of bag with holes in the bottom so morel spores can fall out and potentially spread the mushrooms.
“I’m a fan of mesh bags,” Cook said. “Morels will release a lot of spores when it first fruits. But it will continue to drop spores while you’re carrying them around.”
Morel hunters can be like modern-day Johnny Appleseeds, spreading spores so new populations might emerge from the forest floor.
Cook said beginners might have a hard time spotting their first morel, which grow up out of the soil and look like brownish, webbed Christmas trees.
“Once you find that first one, it becomes easier to spot them,” he said. “Your eye trains your brain to recognize the shape.”
For many morel hunters, once you figure out how to see them, you can’t NOT see them.
Served to a president
Morels cooked right are indeed a tasty treat. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris once took a bunch of Ozarks morels and had them cooked up for President George H.W. Bush, who famously despised broccoli but loved the morels.
Cook said his favorite recipe is to dip washed morels in egg, roll them in crushed Italian bread crumbs and then fry them in canola oil. They can also be sauteed in butter, with a dusting of salt and pepper.
Especially in the Midwest, morels have become such a common delicacy that dried morels can be found in many grocery stores.
While morel mushroom hunting can be fun, Cook reminded people going afield to be aware of their surroundings.
“We have turkey season coming up, so be aware that turkey hunters might be out there,” he said.
Ticks and chiggers also will be out in force as the temperature rises, so morel hunters need to think about how to keep from being bitten, using appropriate bug sprays, wearing light-colored clothing so ticks can more easily be seen, and doing tick checks afterward.
Because Missouri is also home to venomous timber rattlesnakes and copperheads, Cook cautioned morel hunters to be careful where they step and to survey the area around a morel mushroom before reaching down to harvest it.
“A lot of folks have been cooped up all winter and can’t wait to get out and hunt morels,” he said. “It’s always great, whether you find mushrooms or not, to get outdoors.”