Morels are worth the trip to the woods or abandoned orchards
Morels are America’s magic mushrooms. Easy to differentiate from toxic varieties of mushrooms, morels can be prepared in so many ways that even a child’s palette can develop a taste for them.
With our open woodlands and fast-disappearing orchards here in Jefferson County and surrounding area there are still ideal morel hunting grounds locally.
From now through about the first 10 days in May, morels pop their fleshy heads and stems through the soil, almost inviting the hungry-for-excellence to get serious about seeking them out.
April showers generally give the ground the moisture needed to motivate the morels to get on the move.
Should you have access to gone-to-seed farmlands where no cattle or horses are poking around, then look for patches of woods or forests where trees like ash, elm or oak are found. Dead trees — especially elms with their bark peeling off — can be as available to morels as towering giants.
In early April, the first mushrooms generally can be found along the edges of the forests. The sun has warmed the ground there more so than deeper in the interior. As the number of warmer days come along in May, going deeper toward the interior will be profitable. Also, in the cooler days and nights of April finding south-facing hills or inclines that receive more sun will usually have more morels.
In my morel-chasing experience, locating abandoned apple orchards, especially areas where the trees are dead, have been the best areas for finding the little prizes within range of the tree’s trunks.
At times, fence rows not littered with poison ivy but with sassafras, very young trees and decaying leaves can yield the occasional morel because of the sun they receive. But watch out for the always-present poison ivy even when it doesn’t have leaves.
There are people who can visit the same areas year after year and return with baskets brimming with the delicacies, but others like me can often hunt for two hours and return with more stories about the birds, rabbits and roaming groundhogs than any morels.
Ranging through a woods might not yield anything but a thirst for a cold water . . . until a morel or two is found. A general rule if that happens is to stay in that area or search other places with a similar set of trees, ground cover and sunlight.
If your search is rewarded with morels enough to at least half-fill a frying pan, then you are in high clover and ready to eat high on the hog.
The best-prepared morels I ever ate were at my aunt’s home in Kearneysville. She made a batter of corn meal and a few eggs and dipped the mushrooms in that concoction. After dipping the mushrooms sliced length-wise in the corn meal batter, she fried the fleshy morsels in butter for us panting diners.
Some people saute the pieces in butter and many others chop the mushrooms fine and add them to scrambled eggs before frying that taste-tempting delight.
Mushrooms seem very rich and those without much — if any — experience with lobster, cheesecake or calorie-loaded sauces should go slower when first exposed to morels.
Find a non-working orchard, go into the woods where elms and ash trees are numerous, or find a narrow creek that roams through sandy soil that is peppered liberally with trees and your day could be rewarded with some of the best eating a country boy or girl would ever want.