It’s May, and that means we’re hunting for morels in Northern Michigan. Here we share 13 of the best morel hunting, cleaning and cooking tips we’ve gathered over the years from foragers and chefs across Michigan.
When to Look for Morel Mushrooms
- Morel season lasts for five to six weeks. You start with the black morels (look near poplars and aspen) then you have a crossover period with blacks and whites, and at the end of the season, it’s only whites (common near ash trees). During the crossover, that’s when you go to an apple orchard … if you can find one that’s from an old abandoned farm, maybe 100 years old, it’s perfect.
- Morels grow best in spring, mid-April to late May, when daytime temps reach around 60–65 degrees and evening temps stay above 50 degrees. This helps to warm the soil to 50+ degrees, which is important for morel mushrooms and many other fungi to grow.
- It’s all about the rain. The mushrooms don’t look at the calendar and say, “Hey, it’s April 25th, we need to get out there!”Theylookattheweather.Whenwegettherain,we get the morels. But even in light rain, or if there’s moisture leftover from winter, they will grow.
Where to Find Morel Mushrooms
- Morels are notorious for being difficult to track down but if you look for tree groves mixed with living, dead and dying ash, elm, oak and aspen trees your chances of success will increase. Morels are also found under pine trees, in apple orchards and even in backyards around woodchip piles.
- If you’re a beginner mushroom hunter, print a color picture of your prey (the morel). This will aid in training your eyes to spot these camouflaged delicacies. You’ll also have a useful reference when you think you have located a morel. There are a few other mushrooms that look similar (some are poisonous) and you don’t want to make that mistake.
- Know that where there’s one morel, there are probably more. If you spot one, stop, crouch down near ground level and scan the horizon 20 feet out in all directions. Getting down near the ground helps you spot them against the backdrop of a lighter-colored sky.
- Some people go out for 45 minutes and say they can’t find anything. You’ve got to make it an all-day activity. You go out all morning. You take your lunch and eat it in the woods. And you keep going. If you’re really hunting for mushrooms, you put your time in and cover a lot of ground.
How to Store Morel Mushrooms
- To avoid storing wet mushrooms, which can go bad quickly, don’t rinse or wash morels until you’re ready to use them. Keep them fresh in a brown bag or a bowl with a damp paper towel over them in the fridge.
- Resist the urge to hoard your morels; they’re best eaten within four days of picking them.
How to Clean Morel Mushrooms
- To clean fresh morels, fill a large bowl with cool water—enough so the morels float. Pour a good amount of salt in the bowl and swish the mushrooms around gently to draw out any bugs. Rinse with fresh water to remove excess salt.
How to Cook Morel Mushrooms
- Keep it classic: When you’re ready to cook them, cut lengthwise and place in a pan with butter. Add salt and pepper to taste (optional). Morels don’t have to cook long; 5–10 minutes should do it.
- Spice it up: For seasonings, try garlic, lemon, nutmeg, tarragon, thyme or a splash of Marsala, sherry or port. Keep it fairly simple though—you don’t want to disturb the morels’ own complex flavor.
- Dried morels work the same as fresh in most recipes. Rehydrate in very hot water, broth or wine. You can strain this liquid with a very fine sieve and use it as a base in your sauce. The morels’ flavor will infuse the broth and wine and add depth to your dish.
Find this article and more in the May 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse Magazine delivered to your door each month.