As an amateur mushroom hunter, morels are the one mushroom I’m confident finding. With their distinct black, brown or white honeycombed cap it’s difficult to screw up identification. A dangerously poisonous false morel is possible to pick—but they're so easy to identify. Their appearance is brain-like, as if the honeycombs have congealed.
- Lisa Sipe
- The stooped hunting position.
Ease of identification doesn’t make morels easy to spot on the forest floor. Their brown caps emerge from decomposing leaves of the same color so everything melds together. Even with a few years of hunting under my belt, it usually takes some time for my eyes to warm up to distinguish them from the surrounding decay. I typically hunt with my partner and it’s a bit of a competition to see who gets their morel goggles first. Sadly, I didn’t win this year, but our hunts have been so fruitful it really didn’t matter.
Morels are synonymous with spring. I get excited around the Spring Equinox and start looking when the tree in front of my house gets covered in vibrant green buds, but it’s way too early. The season hits mid April and typically peaks at Cinco de Mayo, which makes me wonder why morel tacos aren’t more of a thing.
With a short season and limited supply morel hunters typically won’t tell you where to find them. I’m not giving up my spots either! Your best bet is to ask where to go at the local Forest Service office; under normal circumstances you'd need to go there anyway to get your free mushroom permit and a map for the area you're visiting—though right now, through the month of May, the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests, and Crooked River National Grasslands are allowing people to collect without a permit to encourage social distancing. Thus, calling the office is probably your best bet right now.
(Editor's note: This corrects a previous version of this story, which stated that the permits were needed right now.)
Typically, people can gather 2 gallons of mushrooms per day for 10 days per calendar year. Morels like to hang out around dead and dying trees; I’ve had the best luck finding them in previously burned areas around aromatic evergreen snowbrush. As the temperature rises the morels will move up in elevation to escape the heat.
- Lisa Sipe
- Blending in with the surrounding material on the forest floor.
Properly picking a morel will ensure a great harvest the following year. Remove the debris around the morel and grab the mushroom base with your forefinger and thumbnail, pinch and twist. Don’t pull up because this will disturb the root structure and possibly prevent future crops. This process is even easier if you use a knife.
I love getting lost in the hunt. With each found morel I’m sure a bit of dopamine is released in my brain fueling me to search more. I keep thinking the next branch I lift up will reveal a bigger morel or possibly a bunch. The next thing I know I’m miles away from where I started with a mesh bag heavy with the weight of my fungi treasures.
- Lisa Sipe
- Sweet success.
At home I put the morels in a paper bag and shake them to release excess dirt. To clean them, I fill a bowl with cold water and swish them around to remove the remaining dirt and set them on a cotton towel to dry. My favorite way to eat them is to fry them in salted butter, sometimes with shallots. When the mushrooms are soft I deglaze the pan with white wine. Once the wine is reduced I stir in cream and chopped fresh thyme. We’ve been baking so much sourdough bread lately that right now I serve the sautéed morels on top of toasted slices—but you could also serve it with pan roasted chicken breasts or tossed into pasta.