Morchella esculenta! Oh how that rolls off the tongue. But that is nothing compared to the dance my taste buds do when eating this imminently edible fungus which most people know as the morel mushroom.
North Dakota isn’t exactly the mushroom capital of the world, but they do grow here, and depending on where you live, morel season is either on, or it will be soon. Morels are the choice spring mushroom for the amateur mushroom hunter. They’re said to come up when the oak leaves are the size of mouse ears, or when the lilacs begin to bloom.
I’d tell you where to find them, but if I did, I’d have to kill you. As some of you know, the location of a person’s morel patch is a closely guarded secret. Seeing another person in your favorite morel patch can hurl a normally well adjusted person into complete meltdown.
I will tell you where to look though: “Morels grow where you find them!” That may sound like a cop-out, but it’s true. I have found morels on the edge of golf course fairways, prairie, cottonwood river bottoms (including along the Little Missouri River in Medora), and among willow, aspen, and oak. The only factors that I have found to give a high probability of finding morels are good eyes, places where they have been found before, and areas that have been recently burned.
Morels are easy to identify, but there is a group of mushrooms called “false morels.” The first rule of eating wild mushrooms is “Don’t eat any mushroom you can’t positively identify.” So if you need help with identification, there are several mushroom guides available as well as some reliable information on the internet.
By the way, collecting morels doesn’t harm their population. The vegetative mycelium is in the soil. All you pick is the reproductive structure (kind of like picking a flower isn’t going to kill a plant). In fact, some morel hunters have discovered that they apparently have been spreading the spores, because the trailside to their secret patch is now growing mushrooms.
Perhaps like you, I am starting to salivate at the thought of some morels sautéed in butter. No need to spice them up, because as those old beer commercials used to say “it just doesn’t get any better!”
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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