Folks, this post is by Mark Jones of Sharondale Farm, who explains where to look for wild morel mushrooms and what to do once you find some. He tells me that mid-April is the perfect time for them. By the way, I’ve seen morel-hunting lessons advertised. If you don’t have a friend who knows what to look for, maybe you can hire a guide.
The season of the morel mushrooms is here. I have to admit the morels, otherwise known in these parts as merkels or landfish, are not my favorite culinary mushroom, but with butter and garlic they are pretty tasty. Many people ask about finding them and possibly growing them. Morel hunting spots are like fishing holes. Not many folks reveal the exact spot they found the mother lode, and that huge mushroom found a few years ago always seems to grow a bit with each retelling. Growing morels involves a moderate level of skill. There is much information about cultivating them on the Internet.
I usually begin looking when the lilacs are beginning to bloom and the turkey hunt is on. There are a few places to look that seem to have higher rates of success, such as tulip poplar forests in flood plains, old apple orchards, and sites of recent forest fires–although I have found them on the spring run in the mixed hardwoods, and they are known to spring up in weird places.
There are several important things to know when harvesting these fungal delicacies. If you find them in the city, know that they are excellent bioaccumulators of lead and heavy metals. So, consider telling the tale rather than eating them if they are near the road, old painted buildings, or areas where pesticide has been applied in the past. If you are lucky and the mushrooms reveal themselves to you, you will want to keep them fresh (refrigerated in a paper bag works well) and cook them soon. Morels are poisonous until cooked thoroughly and the vapors while cooking are toxic, so beware and take care as you prepare your wild feast.
One other word of caution when eating wild mushrooms: always know what you are eating. Get a good field guide or two and hunt with a friend who knows mushrooms until you are familiar with the important identification features. If you are an accomplished or aspiring mushroom hunter, consider joining the new Mushroom Club that is forming in Charlottesville. The first organizational mushroom foray will be on Earth Day, April 22, at 10am at the Ivy Creek Natural Area.