Morel hunters delight in challenge

The mushrooms are hard to find but delicious.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:21 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The only certain thing about morel mushrooms is their unpredictability. For hunters of the fickle fungus, the search can be the most satisfying and frustrating aspect of the hobby.

The inability to forecast where these mushrooms are means the only way adventurous eaters can get good ones is by scouring the woods for them.

Last weekend, 65 members of the Missouri Mycological Society gathered for the group’s annual Morel Madness at Cuivre River State Park near Troy, about 60 miles northwest of St. Louis. They harvested 700 to 800 morels.

For Maxine Stone, president of the organization, there are many reasons to hunt morels besides the tasty payoff.

“It is a thrill to be in the woods,” she said. “The mushrooms are there, but it’s only rarely that you see them. And when you see them, it’s magic.”

Stone, who has been interested in mushrooms for 15 years, described morels as “delicious and earthy.”

But a morel can be a rarer find than other mushrooms. A lot depends on the weather, Stone said.

Bruce Moltzan, a forest pathologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said there are no sure-fire ways to calculate when and where morels will grow.

“It’s a really random hit-or-miss thing,” he said.

A tip Moltzan said to keep in mind when searching for morels is to look for places where there are ecological disturbances, such as fires.

The mushrooms seem to respond to trees that are dying off, he said.

Moltzan also said that whether the fungus will take a fruiting or vegetative course depends upon the weather. The fruiting stage, which typically starts in April, produces the part of the fungus that people eat. There is a short window of opportunity — two to three weeks — to harvest the mushrooms, Moltzan said.

Morel hunters have maybe a week left to look for the mushrooms, Stone said, but depending on the weather, this season they may last longer.

“It’s just an opportunity for people to go out in the forest and look closely,” Moltzan said. “It’s always a challenge for folks.”

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