The coronavirus has changed many aspects of our lives, but there’s one aspect of this year’s spring in the Ozarks outdoors that is the same as it was last year and each preceding year: morel mushrooms are starting to appear.
Suffice to say, there are many Missourians that have never needed a morel hunting trip more than they need one right now. Families have been cooped up in their homes with heavy doses of stress on their minds. They need a break from the stress. They need some fresh air.
They need to hunt for morel mushrooms.
As long as people follow all the guidelines laid out by county, state, and national health organizations, a morel trip may be just what’s needed to ease the worries and restore a few smiles to family life. Fresh air is always a good cure for mental worry and, when that fresh air is coupled with tasty morel mushrooms, the cure is all the better.
If you’re new to morel mushrooms, looking for these tasty mushrooms is an Ozarks tradition that, for most people, swings into gear sometime around early April – depending on weather – and usually lasts into early May (although many will tell you that April is the primo month). If you’re looking to add some variety to the dinner table, a cure to cabin fever, a way to get the family outside – or all of the above – a morel hunt may be the solution.
Morels, like all mushrooms, are the reproductive structures of a fungus. These fungi are not plants. They are fungi, which are unique organisms unto themselves.
Mushrooms sprout from a net of microscopic underground fibers called hyphae. Collectively, the hyphae make up the mycelium, which is the equivalent of the “body” of the fungus organism. The mycelium grows in materials it feeds off of – soil, wood, or decaying matter. Mushrooms don’t feed on substances in the same manner that many vertebrates and invertebrates do. Mushrooms metabolize carbon-rich compounds manufactured by other plants and organisms. They do this by breaking down these compounds with enzymes. These enzymes break down organic substances into molecules which are absorbed through the cell wall. This fungal feeding process provides valuable clean-up assistance in nature by helping to decompose rotting logs and other dead vegetative matter found in forests. The morel mushrooms that sprout from these fibers carry the spores necessary for the fungus to reproduce.
Morels are best-identified by their pitted caps (their tops resemble a sponge). Also remember that morels are hollow. False morels (and many other mushrooms, too) will have cottony, pithy centers, but when you slice a morel length-wise, it will be hollow.
Moist forested areas, south-facing slopes and river bottoms are good places to begin looking for morels. However, it should be noted that many people have stories about finding morels in some very “un-mushroomy” locations so keep your eyes peeled when you’re walking across other types of landscapes, too. A good thing to take on morel hunts, particularly if you’re new to the activity, is a mushroom identification book. Keep an eye out for birds and wildflowers, too. Some of the earliest spring wildflowers appear in timbered areas and spring is also a good time to spot a number of bird species in bright courtship colors.
Once you’ve found morels and brought them home, soak them in salt water for a half-hour or so, long enough to get rid of anything that might have crawled into them. As a final safety check, if you’ve never eaten morels before, it’s probably wise to make your first morel meal a small one. Find out if morels agree with your system and, if they do, it’s time to chow down.
When you’re morel hunting, remember to follow all current health guidelines. These include:
-Avoid crowded places.
-Stay at least 6 feet apart from others.
-Stay home if you’re sick.
-Bring water, soap, and hand sanitizer.
-Be considerate of others you may encounter when you’re out.
Something else to keep in mind is that April 20-May 10 is the Missouri’s spring turkey hunting season. The shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. Any mushroom hunting trips you plan should probably be steered clear of those times or you should take your mushroom hunting to areas where you’re certain no hunting is taking place.
More information about morels can be found at http://mdc.mo.gov.