Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mushroom Hunting in Missouri

Can you spot the mushrooms in this picture?
“Grandpa, do we have to keep quiet when we are mushroom hunting, too?” our grandson asked when he was about five years old, having already been well-coached on the need for silence when hunting and fishing. Fortunately, silence is not required when hunting for those jewels of the forest - morel mushrooms. Getting outside and tromping through the woods in the spring air is just part of the fun of mushroom hunting.

This morel was easier to see.
A grove of maple trees
Yesterday, I went mushroom hunting with my husband. Morels are not easy to see, camouflaged in the leaves, sticks, and spring greenery, so it is always a thrill to claim the first spongy prize poking out of the dirt. Every time I spotted one, Blaine would insist I leave it until he could see where it was growing, adding it to his mental file to look there next year. Here are the secrets of finding mushrooms from my husband, some handed down to him from his father, who was also a master mushroom spotter. One tip is to look for a grove of maples. For some reason they often pop up there. Pay special attention to rotting logs, which sometimes provide shelter for the mushroom spores to take root. Also check under elm trees, as mushrooms may also be found there. We also search under some favorite old, big trees every year. Basically, just look all over in the woods or small groves of trees, and if you find some mushrooms, remember the spot and look there again next year.
Many people worry about the safety of eating mushrooms, and it is certainly important to know which mushrooms are safe to eat and which are not. Some varieties of the fungi are poisonous. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, edible morel caps are attached directly to the stem, while poisonous mushrooms are not attached at the stem. If you are not familiar with the different varieties, look at pictures online, or take them to your local Conservation Department to help you identify them to be safe.
To prepare the mushrooms, we cut them in half and soak them in salt water to kill the little bugs that live inside. You can soak and rinse them all you want, but you might as well accept the fact that you are going to eat some hidden bugs. One time a tiny snail was hidden in the folds of a large mushroom, and my son bit into it. He did not eat mushrooms again for several years, even though we tried to convince him he had eaten the French delicacy called escargot. We then dip the halves in a beaten egg and roll them in cracker crumbs. I fry them in a skillet in equal parts of butter and olive oil. (The olive oil just makes me feel a little better about the calories in the butter.) The results are a plate piled high with crispy bites of goldenness that are best eaten warm. Morels are a tasty treat that are as much fun to find as they are to eat! What is your favorite way to cook and/or eat mushrooms?