Wild Mushrooms

One of the most valuable aspects of Homestead Preserve's is the thousands of undisturbed acres of mountain woods to explore. Up on the mountain the trees still haven't leafed out and you see a wide variety of birds, some residents, some just passing through on their way to a summer home. With spring mating colors in full display, they are easy to spot at a distance. We are not educated birders but there was no missing the indigo buniting and pair of orioles we saw two Sundays ago.

But on most of our April hikes we never look up to see what bird made that call. Our eyes are glued to the ground looking for morel mushrooms. Mushroomers are worse than grouse hunters when it comes to sharing information. They will generously share in what they find with friends; after all you can only eat so many mushrooms and it's hard to stop picking when you find a big patch on a good year.

To find morels in the spring, we need some warm weather folloing a few good rains. I rarely find them on my first walk. I'm usually too early, but can't bear the thought of missing them. Successful mushroomers don't wander idly in the woods like I often do. They have a system and a scret inventory of locations. Some spots are early to pop, others later. Top secret! We have a friend who always found shopping bags full every spring and shared them with us each year. When he became too old to make it up the mountain to pick himself, I was sure he would share a location or two with Mary (he was crazy about Mary and knew she'd never talk even when waterboarded). He couldn't do it. He wanted them badly but it just wasn't possible for him to make his lips form the words to tell her where to look.

A friend called and said he wanted to search for morels on his farm and wanted me to tell him how one would choose locations to search. You hear these generalized systems all the time: "They like east facing hollows where there are a lot of poplars", "look around old apple trees", "They like big pines that are surrounded by oaks". I have never found a single morel using one of the many guides I've been given. All I know is that it is best to stop, stand still and look. Then walk some more and stop again. If you find one, look more closely.

There are two kinds: the white and the dark. I don't think there are any other mushrooms that look similar in April that you don't want to eat, but educate yourself or go with someone who knows. There's a million ways to prepare them and they are all good. When you do find them, the excitement is wonderful. Happy Hunting!