I consider myself a greenhorn morel hunter, even though I’ve been hunting the delicious mushrooms for 15 years. My first hunt took place on a warm and sunny day in early May. A friend took me to his land south of Brainerd and introduced me to the art of finding morels. We managed to locate enough of the rich, earthy-tasting mushrooms to make a pair of side dishes for supper that evening.
I was hooked. A walk in the springtime forest and a culinary delight to boot.
For veteran mushroom hunters a perennial morel hot spot is a guarded secret. Hunters seem to get as much satisfaction from bragging about their mushrooming skills as they do from eating the delicious morels. But novices can also find morels. And searching is half the fun.
Morel mushrooms sprout during spring. They can be found throughout Minnesota in the coming days and weeks. The tasty mushrooms rely on sufficient spring rain and warm weather to grow. Once the ground has thawed, a good time to find morels is a day or two after a rainfall when the temperature reaches into the 70s.
I’ve located a few mushrooming hot spots in my years. But frankly, I’ve had equal luck finding the well-camouflaged mushrooms while exploring the springtime woods for other reasons. I once found a small patch of morels while searching for shed deer antlers. I’ve also uncovered morels while hunting wild turkeys. I’ve even spotted the mushrooms as I’ve slowly driven along country roads.
Bonus: The springtime woods are full of delightful surprises, apparent only to those who walk with eyes glued to the forest floor. One day I found a newborn white-tailed deer fawn, its spotted coat near perfect camouflage in the sunlight-dappled leaves. I’ve also discovered the nests of woodcock and ruffed grouse, both cryptic birds that blend with the forest floor while incubating their clutches of eggs.
In central Minnesota, look for morels to grow in aspen and ash lowlands, particularly near cleared areas. Sometimes morels will even grow in shallow water, especially during a dry spring. I’ve had the best luck finding morels where ferns and jack-in-the-pulpit grow.
Southeastern Minnesota is famous for its abundant crops of large, flavorful morels. Local experts advise that the mushrooms “pop” beneath dead elm trees.
How does one prepare morel mushrooms?
Upon arriving home with my rewards, I rinse the morels in cold water and slice them in half the long way. If you are lucky enough to collect more morels than you can eat, they can be dried in a food dehydrator and stored in an airtight container for later use.
There are many delicious recipes, but I prefer to simply sauté them in butter. I add only a touch of seasoning — I don’t want to hide the natural flavor of morels.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.