Photo by Ashley Holmes
Yellow morel at the forest edge, April 2017.
Photo by Ashley Holmes Yellow morel at the forest edge, April 2017.
It is springtime in Indiana and that can mean only one thing: mushroom hunting season. We have seen many social media posts of people finding plenty of morels in our wooded areas of Montgomery County. Morels are fun to go out and find but are also yummy to eat.
Morel hunting is a time-honored tradition in the Midwest. They are known by many names, including dryland fish, miracle, sponge mushroom, and hickory chicken. These mushrooms generally pop up when the soil starts to warm and before trees have fully leafed out, usually between the end of March and the first of May. They are found in and around forested areas, sometimes at the forest’s edge. Look for dead or dying hardwood trees, such as oaks and ashes (if you can find them). It is said that they can be found more frequently just after a soaking rain. Early in the morel hunting season, look for them on south facing slopes, where the soil temperature will be warmer. Later in the season, look on north facing slopes, where soil temperatures are still cool enough to support the fruiting bodies. Be careful while hunting for mushrooms and going off of marked trails – it’s not unheard of to come across a copperhead snake (one of Montgomery County’s venomous snakes) while searching for morels.
When you go morel hunting, take along a paper bag with holes in it to collect the mushrooms in. The part you are collecting is the reproductive part of the organism, which lives primarily underground as tiny threads, called mycelia. Carrying the mushrooms around in a hole-y paper bag will allow any spores that have been produced to be spread wherever you walk during your mushroom hunt, hopefully creating more morels for you to find next year!
If you have never hunted for morels before, it is important to know exactly what you are looking for. Eating the wrong mushroom can cause upset stomachs and other unpleasant symptoms, so make sure to take an experienced mushroom hunter with you on your first excursion. There are several species of morels that grow in Indiana, including the sought-after yellow morel (Morchella esculenta) and black morel (Morchella elata). These mushrooms are hollow, so you know you’ve found another species (like a stinkhorn) if you cut it open and the cap is not hollow. If you are ever doubtful about the type of mushroom you’ve found, it’s best to avoid eating it altogether.
In terms of nutrition, morel mushrooms are a low calorie, low fat vegetable that can add a little variety to your plate. While they are low in calories and fat they are a good source of potassium, iron and vitamin D and a moderate amount of protein. Potassium is important for muscle contraction making it vital for a healthy heart. Iron can help prevent anemia and ensures oxygen is being carried to all parts of our bodies. Lastly, vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium for strong bones. With limited amounts of daylight in the winter vitamin D deficiency is becoming more prevalent. Morels can help boost vitamin D levels in early spring.
Many mushrooms don’t need a whole lot of cleaning. However, morels with their sponge-like texture tend to trap dirt, so it takes a little extra cleaning to prevent contamination. Clean morels right before use as they may absorb water when left to sit, causing them to mold. Shake off any debris before soaking the morels in a large bowl of cold water. Swish morels around. If water becomes extremely dirty rinse and refresh with new water. Soak the mushrooms for about 10 minutes. Once clean, put on clean kitchen towel and pat dry. Prepare using a recipe of your choice. If you are storing for later use remove dirt and debris but do not wash with water. Store under refrigeration.
Pair two in seasonal vegetables together for a beautiful and tasty dish.
Morel Mushroom and Asparagus Sauté
• 3 cups asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces.
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 shallot, thinly sliced
• 4 cups fresh morel mushrooms, halved lengthwise
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat; Swirl to coat. Add shallot, sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add morels, asparagus and ½ tsp salt; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms are lightly browned. Add oil and pepper; toss gently to coat. Cook 2 minutes or until asparagus is thoroughly heated.
Written by Monica Nagele, HHS Educator and Ashley Holmes, ANR Educator