Mushroom hunting is fun for all ages. (Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation)
Mushroom hunting is something I enjoy for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I absolutely love the rich, nutty taste of morel mushrooms. I don’t care if you fry them, bake them, sauté them, or whatever, they taste incredible. Secondly, mushroom hunting is something the whole family can participate in together.
My girls aren’t too good at sitting still and keeping quite. Luckily, mushrooms won’t spook at the screech of a little kid like a deer and turkey will. Walking through the woods is my favorite type of exercise, and after months of winter inactivity, it feels great to get out and stretch your legs in early spring looking for mushrooms. You never know what else you might find, like deer antlers, turtle shells and even Native America artifacts.
Good areas to look for morel mushrooms include south facing slopes, around fallen logs, and certain types of trees. South facing slopes are prime spots early in the season because they warm up first. Decomposing logs are generally worth a second look. If you have any elm and/or ash trees on your hunting grounds, be sure to finely comb those areas. Apple trees, especially apple orchards, are always worth a look and are often hot spots.
A few tools of the trade include a walking stick, a knife and a mesh bag. Walking sticks are important because they allow you to scoot leaves and brush around without having to bend down. I don’t know the science behind it, but experts say to use a knife to cut the morels off at the stem instead of pulling them completely out of the ground. Supposedly this helps them regenerate. A mesh bag sort of works the same way. The theory is a mesh bag allows spores to fall from the mushrooms as you walk through the woods, thus the spreading the bounty for future years. A good Google Earth map of the area you’re walking is a good idea too, so you can mark finds and return for years to come.
One of the best meals I have ever eaten is a combination of grilled wild turkey breasts covered in sautéed wild morels with a side pan fried crappie filets. Thankfully, these seasons overlap. Turkey season is right around the corner, and fishermen are already busy filling live wells with crappie. These fine tasting panfish are heading into shallow water to spawn. Any of the major reservoirs and most farm ponds in Missouri are primed to give up good messes of crappie right now. Floating a minnow under a bobber near shore or pitching jigs will work. If you keep working the bank, especially one comprised of pea gravel, you should find a school of fish. Once you do, it shouldn’t take too long to land a limit.
Soak morels in a pan of salt water. This drives out any insects that might have been calling the mushrooms home. Once your filets are crackling in oil, drop your mushrooms in hot pan of butter. In just a few minutes, two of nature’s finest treats will be ready for you to enjoy.