Thursday, May 19, 2016

May is Prime Time for Morel hunting!

Wendy was really happy to find so many morels! 
This was round one last Saturday morning 

Morels are very distinctive looking, so easy to identify
Chris Florence foraging foraging for morels.
He's a professional who sells morels at Farmer's Markets
Hi all,

For me, it's often hit and miss as to whether I carve out enough time to go morel hunting in May. Timing is everything when it comes to morel hunting, and based on my experience last weekend, I can tell you that morel season is hitting prime time right now.

Looking ahead in the next 10 days, it's supposed to stay kind of wet and cool, which hopefully will prolong the morel hunting season even more.

Wendy and I decided we wanted to get away to our Cozy Cabin in McCall last weekend -- just to get a much-needed change of scenery -- but instead of morel hunting close to town, as we often do, we headed to the burn zone of the Teepee Springs fire, a 95,709-acre blaze that ran from New Meadows to the Salmon River last August.

It's well-known that morels, the fruiting body of the morchella species, love to bloom upon disturbance, particularly from wildfires. "They like areas of disturbance -- that's what causes them to bloom," says Chris Florence, a professional wild food forager whom I wrote about in "Idaho Microbes: How tiny single-celled creatures can harm, and save our world."

"Fires can destroy the root structure of the soil, depending on how hot it burns, and that's when the mycorrhizal layer puts all of its energy into kicking out as many spores as possible to survive," he says.

And from those spores, morels are born.

Teepee Springs fire zone
I checked with the New Meadows Ranger District, asking how best to access the fire zone, and they suggested the Hazard Creek Road. One also could try to access it from the French Creek Road or the Goose Lake Road after more snow melts. The great thing about Hazard is that they'd been logging in there all week, so it wasn't open to the public until the weekend. We were one of the first people in there.

Wendy and I picked around 20 pounds of morels all around burned tree stumps, burned holes in the ground and under burned alderbrush. Some of them were just growing in the fir needles on some moist east slopes.

How to find morels? 

Try to get some intel on what elevation are the morels sprouting? Last week, it seemed to be in the 4,500-5,000 foot range. That means you could go to that elevation above Idaho City, Garden Valley or Cascade in the Boise National Forest. As time goes on, morels will be popping in the Payette National Forest above 5,000 feet. If you see a trillium growing on the forest floor, that's an indication that you might be in the right elevation for morels.

The Clearwater Complex fire zone might be another great place to look for morels.

Forest type: Florence recommends forested areas with fir trees in cooler, moister areas. I've found that east slopes can be better than south and west slopes. Ponderosa pine areas don't seem very productive for morels, in my experience. Look around rotten stumps, old logs, things like that.

Stop and stare: I find that you really have to get low to the ground and look hard for morels. Once you find some, you'll find more. It takes a lot of patience to really go slow and stare at every square yard of soil, but patience and persistence will pay off.

Go with an experienced morel picker: It always helps to go with someone who has a favorite morel-picking spot(s). They can get you started.

How to cook? 

Once you've picked some morels, I recommend sauteing them with butter and garlic and serving on steak, burger, or mixing up a morel and swiss omelette. It's totally deluxe!

Here are some good tips on cleaning and cooking morels.

Have fun!
- SS

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