Morel Mushrooms: The New Gold Rush?

By Keith Proctor, Staff Writer

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“It is wired into us. It is the same thing our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Part of what we experience as pure joy now was a key to survival at one time. We are wired for a thrill of finding food in nature. It is just as pure as it can be.” So said by Connie Green, author of The Wild Table; a 2011 International Association of Culinary Professionals book Awards Finalist.

Within this present season, gaining an understanding, and improving better awareness of what nature provides locally in spring, grants outdoor enthusiasts additional purpose when doing something they already enjoy: seeking out prized Morel Mushrooms. Though the mysterious mushrooms grow nationwide, they are prolific in the Pacific Northwest. Educating oneself regarding Morels (an available food) in the wild, may help people do something anciently planted within the consciousness of primal humans: hunting and gathering, but it may also create an opportunity to make some cash.

Morel mushrooms can be eaten freshly cooked or dried. Because of their tastiness to so many, and due to being in limited supply, as of this week through oregonmushrooms.com, fresh blond morels were selling for $43.00 per pound, while fresh black morels fetch $38.00 per pound from the same supplier.

Spring is their abundant season. Morels are one of the most difficult of all fungi for even the most skillful mycologist to duplicate out of their wild habitat; considered impossible to do by some. This is one of the factors driving hunters out onto hikes in search of the often elusive mushroom.

Existing in many habitats, Morels are often exceedingly difficult to see even for the most seasoned mushroomer. Andrew Weil states, in, All That the Rain promises and More…a book by, David Arora, that, “we could live in a forest full of Morels and never see them,” and how “the larger principle is that what we experience is determined by what we are able to perceive.” “Our brain acts as a filter, screening out what it doesn’t consider significant,” and because of this we must be able to recognize the patterns of Morels less we be surrounded by them and never know they’re there. The aforementioned book is one of the most highly recommended mushrooming guides, especially for beginners; novice hunters will need all the help they can get.

Locations known by the seasoned hunters to be consistent for producing this ‘shroom are kept quite secretive, unless you are in the know. Even then the exact patches they may have been in, will change somewhat from year to year due to their short lived mycelia. This makes specific Morel locational information rare and competitive. Rookies in the field will often be on their own, through something like a rite of passage; and though the rewards are well worth the time, say expert mushroom hunters, it can be demoralizing to strike out so often…this is true even for the pros.

When requesting information for this article through a FaceBook group, Pacific Northwest Mushroom Identification and Information Forum, the first response was a quote from the 1999 movie Fight Club, “first rule of fight club.” For those who don’t know that first rule, it is, “don’t talk about fight club.” This isn’t always the case, it is actually rare, most mushroom hunters are helpful and kind, like Norma J. Todd who said, “for me it has been about teaching my children and now my grandchildren and the time spent doing so with nothing but our bodies and the great outdoors.” She also called it, “the adult Easter egg hunt.”

Harvesting Morels changes as the season gets warmer and drier. In early spring the species is in the lower elevations and as spring lengthens they will go higher and higher up the hills. They vary in color from a cream (known as blond) to what is considered a black Morel, though these colors also vary depending on the time of year. When harvesting even a single mushroom, do not pull it out from the ground; pinch it off at the lower stalk, or cut it around the same location, just above the earth.

“Mushroom hunting can teach us a lot about the larger world,” stated Weil, believe and you will see…seeing is believing.

 

 

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