Where, when, and how to hunt for morels

May 14 2015 | mswolfgang
Morel mushroom with dead wood
Photos by Chris Wolfgang

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a morel mushroom sautéed in butter, you need to go mushroom hunting. Like, now. Or at least the next time they’re in season.

Where do I find morels?

Morels grow throughout most of the US (they particularly love the Great Lakes area — lucky people) and Europe. If any readers from other countries want to chime in with, “Yeah, we’ve got ‘em too!”, let me know!

More specifically, you’ll have the best luck finding morels in wooded areas. They particularly like dead wood, fallen bark, and not much grass or ground cover. I’m not saying you won’t find a random morel in a meadow, but you’re better off tromping through a forest with old wood and a sandy creek bed.

Perfect hunting ground for morels

EDIT: Heads up, there is such a thing as the false morel. Some people get sick from it, some can eat them just fine, but the morel (heh) of the story is that if you don't recognize it, DON'T EAT IT. True morels have conical, honeycombed caps that go most of the way down the stalk. False morels look more like brainy blobs on a stick. One is pretty, one looks like it escaped from a lab.

When should I start looking?

If you live in a temperate area in the Northern Hemisphere, get out your rubber boots and a bucket anywhere from late April to the middle of May. Definitely search the internet for the perfect times for your area!

For reference, I’m smack dab in the middle of the US in Omaha, Neb. I went out for my first hunt of the year the next-to-last week of April. The season will taper off as the weather gets warmer. Usually by the second week of May, I feel like I’m wasting my time.

So how do I actually do this?

This is a low-tech gig. You’ll need:

  • Access to public land or permission from a landowner
  • A bucket, basket, or bag
  • Probably water-proof shoes

Hunting morels

Walk slow and stare at the ground like you’ve never seen anything more fascinating in your life. You’re looking for a light brown/yellow-ish cone on a short stalk. The cap has deep grooves, kinda wrinkly looking.

If you find one, slow down even more. Step gently, turn over a couple leaves, and really look. You’ll probably find at least one more in the immediate vicinity. The size of your haul will vary on so many things that I can’t make you any promises. It’s anyone’s bet if you’ll come back with none or a hundred.

Oh, if you got permission to search on someone’s property, be neighborly and ask if they’d like you to leave them a bit of your findings. It’s a nice way to make sure you can come back to a great location in the future.

Morels have deeply grooved caps

Now… what do I do with morels?

Don’t eat these babies raw. You gotta cook ‘em. Here’s how to prep them:

  • I snap off the stems and throw them away. I just don’t like wasting my time on them.
  • I slice all the caps lengthwise. You could leave them whole, but, uh, bugs can get in the caps sometimes. I like to be reassured there’s nothing inside my mushrooms.
  • Rinse the caps thoroughly in a colander in your sink.
  • Spread them on a towel to dry a bit before cooking or storing.

Rinsing morels

The simplest way to bring out the nutty flavor of morels is to fry them with butter, salt, and pepper in a cast iron skillet. Whatever you don’t plan to cook immediately, place in a large bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and keep in the fridge up to a week.

If you’d like to knock someone’s socks off (or your own), I have a lemon alfredo recipe that's pretty kickass.

Fried morels with lemon alfredo

Fried Morels in Lemon Alfredo
~6 morel caps, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups angel hair pasta
1 ½ cups half-and-half (or milk or heavy cream, your preference)
4 Tbsp butter, divided use
½ cup flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 chicken breasts (optional), butterflied or cubed
1 cup of snow peas (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Start water boiling for the pasta, about a quart. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a cast iron skillet (my preference — any frying pan is fine). In separate batches, fry the chicken, the snow peas, and finally the morels, adding butter or olive oil as necessary to keep them from sticking to the pan. Remove the chicken to a plate when they just start to turn brown. Remove the snow peas when they turn a super bright green. The morels will take the least time to cook, less than a minute on a very hot skillet.

Angel hair will take roughly 3 minutes to cook at a boil. Drain and let sit in a strainer (angel hair is too fine for most colanders). In the newly empty pot, melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Make a roux by sprinkling flour in small handfuls until you reach a creamy texture. Stir in half-and-half, then stir in cheese until melted. Stir in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add chicken, snow peas, and morels, taking care not to add their juices. Spread over noodles, top with grated cheese, and serve hot. A glass of lemonade really makes the lemon in the pasta shine!

  1. I grew up eating foraged mushrooms (in the UK) and one thing we always did was take a mushroom pocket guide with us and if in doubt, chuck it out. Many mushrooms have toxic look alikes including the morel, I'm a bit confused that safety has not been covered here. http://thegreatmorel.com/falsemorel.html

    8 agree
    • I'm with Stripey and would like to see some safety tips included here.

      Less seriously, can I propose the heading: "A Morel Dilemma" for the topic?

      3 agree
    • Hi, Stripey. You're right, I didn't say a word about safety. I'll add a point. It's good to remember that if you're the only one between nature and food, you have to be aware of the risks.

      2 agree
  2. Nothing like a little na-na-boo-boo to start your morning… I'm a little annoyed that this article is like: Hey, you should do this great thing, but it ended already so now you'll need to wait until next year. Specifically, "I went out for my first hunt of the year the next-to-last week of April. The season will taper off as the weather gets warmer. Usually by the second week of May, I feel like I’m wasting my time." Um… it's the second week of May. Why wasn't this published a month ago?

    5 agree
    • Hey there, Sophie. That's the tricky thing about small-window foraging — it's very location-specific. I mentioned the window of time that's relevant for me in Nebraska. If you're going to forage, you need to look up resources about your own area. The other tips, like land and area and temperature, are more widely applicable.

      We may not have been able to get this post up in time for this year for my area, but the facts will hold true for subsequent years. I hope you give it a try. It's a fun experience and a good gateway to foraging for less easily identifiable food.

      2 agree
  3. I grew up in the northeast and we would do an annual morel hunt. My absolute favorite recipe uses other spring ingredients: morel, asparagus, scallion quiche. Saute all the veggies in butter, mix them into the typical milk and egg mixture, pour over crust (or don't if you need a gluten free quiche), bake, eat all the quiche. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with wild ramps you can add them to your Spring hunt and toss them into the quiche as well.

    If you live in upstate NY this post is posted just in time. Morel season ends in late May.

    2 agree
  4. If you're too late to go hunting yourself, DRIED morels are also delicious! and available year-round. Just rehydrate them in room temperature water, strain and rinse them, then cook away! They're awesome in soups and sauces (mushroom bourbon sauce anyone?).

    1 agrees
  5. There is a poisonous look alike, false morel. You can differentiate by slicing the stem open (false morel has a cottony interior where true morel is hollow). Many people eat false morel and claim they are safe, but this is based on a misunderstanding of the mechanism of the poison. Gyomitra species such as false morel mushrooms contain small amounts of what is essentially rocket fuel that can build up in your system. Those people who say they eat false morel have simply not reached their bodies limit yet. Mushroom hunting is safe with some precautions but please make sure to key out for false morel until you know what you are looking for.

  6. About safety: is there anywhere wanabee-foragers could seek advice? I'm asking because where I grew up, it is a common practice in case somebody has a doubt about any wild foraged products, like mushrooms, or plants, or berries, to go to any pharmacy (which are a lot different than the one found in Canada- they're more officine-like and run by a doctor in pharmacy (PhD), so you'd know that person knows their shit). Any ideas in North America?

    Anyway, as a kid, my family loved foraging and we would go forage morels, boletes, yellow and black chanterelles. This post makes me want to start foraging the woods again 🙂

    1 agrees
    • Oh wow, I'd love it if I could take foraged food to a location and be like, "Is this safe?" My personal resources are people who've been foraging for years. It's info that's handed down, in my experience, especially because it can be such a hyper localized thing.

      Google for foraging forums in your area. See if you can find groups that go out on weekends that you can tag along with. My experience is that foraging is something you commit to learning over time.

      1 agrees
    • There is a guy a whole foods in NE seattle who will do this for folks with mushrooms. I think he's just a guy who knows the stuff who happens to work at whole foods in produce, so I don't know if every whole foods would have this type of person. But I'm guessing you could call around to co-ops and the like and see if they have someone with this type of knowledge. Of course Seattle also has some sort of wild mushroom club.

      1 agrees
  7. I have several family members who devote April through June to Morel hunting and picking though the northern interior of BC, Canada. They have a network of buyers who pay them good money for what they haul in. Some of my family live off the money for the summer, if they found a great location. being that most of the lands they harvest from are Crown Property, they have unlimited access! They tell me some of the richest harvests have come from areas that are recovering from forest fires. Safety is number one of course, they go out in groups and know what to check for to verify they have the correct species. Also, given the season and climate where they travel checking for ticks on their person regularly is super critical. It's a great time of year to be outside enjoying the sites!

    1 agrees
  8. YUM! Here in Oklahoma, you never know how the season will go. Typically you wait for a warm rainy week followed by a warm sunny week. It's usually the last week of march into April (depending on that good ole Okie weather). Here we look along creek beds or low areas that have a water source, but more specifically, sycamores! Where I live, if you see a sycamore growing, go check out it's base!

    Then after you pick them, we let them soak in water (submerged, usually overnight) to drown any bugs and then give them a good rinse (usually making a cut down the side to open and rinse). Keep 'em in the fridge until your ready to dip them in an egg wash, roll in some flour and fry them up in a skillet!

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