The elusive morel April 12, 2016 23:11

I've certainly looked for morels on many occasions. Any time I'm in the woods in spring I keep an eye out for these wrinkly-looking delicacies. What was unique about last weekend was that it was the first time I'd hunted for them with any kind of coherent plan for success. After a bit of research, a long drive, and four hours of traipsing through scorched earth, Cait and I proudly weighed in at just over one pound of fresh morels. I guess that's not a lot by some standards, but we were happy just not to get skunked!
rick with morels
The scheming began several days before the trip. We set out to improve our odds with a few basic assumptions:
  1. morels are most abundant in the first spring after a fire.
  2. morels, like most (all?) other wild mushrooms, need temperatures well above freezing and plenty of moisture
  3. we had nothing particular planned last weekend, without another free weekend in sight. It was now (then) or never!
  4. anecdotally, morels are seemingly widespread across BC.

So, we were looking for a spot that burned last year (in 2015) with public road access and thoroughly defrosted, moist soil. Oh, and we planned to sleep in on Saturday, so no all-day drives!

Since I can't remember what happened last week, let alone last year, I took a quick peek at last year's wildfire news. This was a helpful starting point to recap the major burn sites. The BC Wildfire Service also provides this helpful summary of the current season (as of writing, still shows 2015) as well as maps of previous years' burns. Note that in some cases, access to burn sites may be restricted for safety reasons!

Ok, so now I have a mental map of wildfire sites within less than a full day's drive. Think I'll share it with you? Ha! Not a chance. The links above are shortcut enough.

On to item #2, soil moisture and temperature. Ideally, we'd want the weather to warm up and then there to be a bunch of rain. Since we haven't had much rain in the last week and a half, but have instead had warm, dry weather, we're looking to another moisture source: receding snow. Since morels need soil temperature well above freezing and grow slowly, we postulated that we'd find the corrugated rascals on ground that had been snow-free for several weeks. We wanted ground that had warmed in the sun but was still moist from melting snow.

We looked mostly to trail condition reports to try to get a sense of the variable snow level, but weren't able to get much detail from trailpeak, summitpost, or bivouac. Ultimately, we found the BC Highway Cams site extremely helpful. They've got cams in many regions with published elevations, so by cross-referencing several cams in an area, and visually confirming presence or absence of snow, we were able to get a rough idea of where the snow level was.

And off we set to seek our fortune! When we arrived at our destination, we found it hot and dry. The snow was far higher than we'd realized, to the point that even the crests of the ridges were clear. Nevertheless, we found our first morel almost immediately!

morels up close

We walked for at least 45 minutes before finding the second one. It was in good company, but they're darn hard to see. How many morels can you see here?

how many morels?

We mainly found them on the southern (shady) slope of a ravine. The vegetation was coming back, and a hand pushed into the soil was very cool. On the sunny side, the soil was warm and dry a few inches down, and we found very few.

morel-rich ravine

There's some tension between the urge to keep moving and the need to be thorough. I imagine experienced pickers find the perfect compromise between covering ground quickly and slowing down enough to pick out the crenulated fugitives against the camouflage ground.

Most of the morels we found were within a few feet of others. In particular, I found several by almost stepping on them on the way to pick other mushrooms. It's a funny mental game; I found it hard to concentrate hard enough to actually find a morel without fully believing the mushrooms to be there. Once we'd noticed the mushrooms growing more prevalently on the shady side, we lost faith that we would find any at all in the sun. Sure enough, the wrinkly rascals were scarcely to be seen on the sunny side! Or perhaps it was our prejudice that prevented us from seeing them? Truly, mushroom picking is an exercise only for the deeply introspective.

A final note to would-be morelnappers: there are many lookalikes, and some are poisonous! As always with wild foods, please be careful and seek expert advice where unsure. Even excellent guides like this one are no substitute for experience.

Happy hunting!

***UPDATE***

If you're lucky enough to find more than you want to eat right away, dried morels are delicious. Properly dried they keep for a long time - surely until next mushroom season!

dehydrating morels in excalibur

 

To use, just soak them in water for a few hours until they're fully piable again and cook 'em up like they were fresh. The flavour becomes, if anything, more developed, and BONUS the water you use to rehydrate them is now mushroom stock.

dried morels