Morel hunting just got a little easier

A typical batch of mushrooms from the Lewis ranch.

We have been really hammering turkey hunting for the past few weeks and for good reason.  

I like my columns to be timely for the current season of the year. 

Well, there is another very popular season in full-swing right now: mushroom season.

For some folks in our area, mushroom hunting/eating is more than just a pastime, it is an obsession.  

I have heard of fist fights that have broken out over mushroom spots. I know one guy who accused his neighbor of “poaching” his morels.  

There are some people who have posted signs at their favorite mushroom locations reading, “KEEP OUT! NUCLEAR WASTE!”

In reality mushroom hunting is one of the least expensive of all outdoor sports in which to participate. No special equipment is needed. There is no license needed to hunt them.  

Comfortable clothing and something in which to carry your prizes covers the basic requirements. 

There are, however, certain things you can do ahead of time that can make your mushrooming safer and more enjoyable.

Wear comfortable, old clothes. Long pants and long sleeves are best to prevent direct contact of your skin with threatening plants like poison ivy or thistle. These precautions will also protect you from biting insects.  

Garden gloves and sunglasses may also come in handy, as may a water bottle.

I know “mushroom pros” who hunt with a walking stick. Some of these folks find a new stick every time while others have their old favorite they have used for years.  

This tool is used to clear weeds from the path, as a probe in thick cover and as a stabilizer in rough terrain. They are useful for flicking leaves out of the way, too.  

Personally, I keep one handy to ward off the occasional snake that invariably attends my mushroom hunts.

Believe it or not there are ways to increase the morel population on the ground on which you hunt. 

Having sharp scissors or a sharp knife to snip morels off just above the ground is important. You should try not to disturb the mycelium by pulling the mushrooms entirely out of the ground.  

If you are careful you can pinch them off at the very base of the stem. Keep your ‘shrooms as free from dirt as possible.  

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Another great way to promote future morel growth is to be very aware of the container in which you carry your mushrooms as you gather them. 

Remember, these tasty plants come from spores, not seeds. You cannot see the spores but you can trust me that they are present.  

If you carry your mushrooms in paper or plastic bags you take all these spores (future mushrooms) home with you. If you rinse them in the sink you flush hundreds, if not thousands, of potential meals down the drain. 

That thought is painful.

The very best way to transport mushrooms in the field is in a net bag like grapes or oranges come in. This allows the spores that are jostled off the mature plants to fall to the ground for next year’s crop.  

To be even more shroud, do collect them in paper or plastic and take them out and shake the bags where you want mushrooms to grow in the future.  

Remember, you cannot see this happen… but it does. In this way you can develop your own mushroom patch in the backyard.

Along those same lines, do not rinse your mushrooms in the sink. Put them in a large bowl and fill it with water. Gently agitate them to rinse.  

Remove the mushrooms carefully and place them very delicately on a paper towel. Then take the water to your new mushroom patch and pour it out there.  

Go back in and repeat the entire process. This could put millions of spores right where you want them. But be patient. It might take two or three seasons for them to pop up.

I do not consider myself a morel expert, but I certainly do some real pros. Pat and Mike Patterson, of Springfield, will find many dozens of pounds of morels each spring. They look for sycamore and elm trees in creek bottoms.  

My best friend, Roger Lewis, and his wife, Jeannie, along with their grandkids have found over 200 morels in the past two weeks in their backyard.

Roger told me, from another good friend, Mark Hardy, the best way to preserve morels for meals weeks or even months from now. Mark cleans and cuts his morels in half. He then rolls them in flour just as if he was getting ready to fry them.  

He then lays them on a piece of cardboard and freezes them just like that. After frozen they go in bag and then back in the freezer.  

It is the very best method I know of to preserve morels.  

Good luck this year in the mushroom woods.

(Mike Roux can be reached at 217-257-7895.) 

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