This is the weekend that anglers celebrate the walleye, our official Minnesota state fish since 1965. There is another interesting outdoors pursuit happening, too.

At the same time another group of outdoor enthusiasts start their morel mushroom forays.

Our official state mushroom since 1984, the morel resembles a piece of sponge growing on a short stalk. In form they are different from most mushrooms. Somewhat coneshaped, a morel silhouette resembles a tiny tree with a large trunk. They are 4 to 8 inches tall, the caps are light tan to brown, and the stems white. Both cap and stem are hollow and brittle. The cap is composed of ridges and pits, but the stalk is reasonably smooth.

After seeing a good picture of morels, most people should be able to recognize them with assurance. Morels appear in spring. For years I have told others to look for morels after a rainfall during the blooming time of the common purple lilac, and that seems to work out well. Often morel hunting is good even several days before the first lilac flowers appear.

To find morels, check a variety of places: Woodlands with elms, maples and basswoods; evergreen plantations; grassy pastures; and on lawns where they come up around stumps and dead trees. To harvest a morel, cut the stalk at the base with a knife so as not to disturb the “root” system. Morels can occur singly, in small groups, or in large numbers when a spring is quite wet. Remember, once you find a patch it may be good year after year, if no one else finds it.

Morels make fabulous eating. After you have gathered this natural bounty, slice the mushrooms longitudinally to open the stems and caps. Wash them gently but thoroughly. They should not be eaten raw. Because the texture and flavor of the morel ranks it as one of the best of all edible fungi, use them in any dish which emphasizes the mushroom.

A common preparation method is to carefully roll the morel halves in a milk and egg mixture, dip in flour, and them cook in butter.

Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and ◄ worked as a naturalist for 50 years.