Morel Revelation

No matter how many morels one has found, the first find of the season is always a revelation. I’m making a pilgrimage to an old favorite ramp patch, following a trickling streambed up a craggy hillside of hickory, yellow birch, ash and beech. It still feels early for morels in northern Vermont’s hills and I’ve learned to pace myself, saving the epic hunts for peak conditions. But with the sweet smell of springtime in the air and the temperature pushing 80, I can’t help but slow down beneath a hefty ash tree that somehow feels just right for Morchella.

My instincts do not let me down. The familiar feeling of disbelief and awe hits me as I spot an unmistakable black, honeycombed pattern just barely poking up above the leaf litter. I bend down to find a pristine pair of black morels, humble creatures of the earth that somehow never fail to capture a certain timeless reverie and glee.

I am alone in the woods, pondering what would have been the 60th birthday of my mother, who passed away in 2013. The early morel find cuts through everything, and suddenly every inch of the forest floor bursts open with potential and wild richness, a transformed interior and exterior landscape. It’s an ineffable feeling every seasoned hunter knows, and any new mycophile can experience for themselves with enough patience and prudence. When the morels find you, all you can do is graciously accept the gift, harvesting humbly and returning the delight in an act of reciprocity.

That is what I did, picking one and sharing it among the three of us that evening. By sharing, I mean our almost four-year-old Eliana pretty much ate the whole thing, Jenna got a tiny bite, and this papa was left to soak up the morel-infused butter in the cast iron pan!

Now that my eyes are on, morels are everywhere. I even spotted two yellows curbside in Montpelier today as I walked over to pick up my car from an oil change. I prefer my morels to be growing in a forest rather than along a freeway, but these coveted mushrooms can be found just about anywhere. Of course, that does not mean finding them will be easy. Morel hunting is hard work – more than any other species, it can demand profound patience and practice, and an intuitive sense of ecological patterns and landscape that can take thousands of hours in the woods to develop.

Still, even for new hunters, there’s always the chance of a serendipitous surprise. With the temperature, timing and moisture finally just right throughout New England, now is the time to try your luck!

Northeastern ForageCast for the month of May

By |May 16th, 2018|ForageCast, Morels, Mushroom Hunting, Wildcrafting|Comments Off on Morel Revelation|

ForageCast: Summer Chanterelles

Baby chanterelle bursting from the forest floor.

With wild strawberry and spearmint on my tongue, and chanterelles on my mind, I walk past the sun-splashed frog pond and into a dark glade of spruce. I’m back in familiar territory, having recently returned to northern Vermont after a stint in the southern Green Mountains.

I have not forgotten my spots, and it seems the chanterelles haven’t forgotten me, either. Dozens of flakes of gold, no bigger than fingernails, stud the soil like a fine necklace. Just where I expected them to be, the chanterelles cut through time and welcome me back home. With my chanterelle eyes on, I wander into a beech and maple grove and discover another dozen hearty new chanterelles. They’ll need at least another week to mature – chanterelles take their time.

The woods don’t need a calendar to know we’re safely into the sweet hours of summer. Warm soils and relentless rain have created prime conditions for summer porcini and early golden chanterelles. Meanwhile, oysters and reishi are ready for harvest throughout the region.

Chicken of the woods and giant puffballs have made early and impressive showings, but it’s not just edibles that enjoy the warm rains. Poisonous fly agarics and deadly destroying angels are back, too – bold reminders of the vital imperative of safe, prudent and ethical wildcrafting.


Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

By |June 27th, 2017|Chanterelle, ForageCast|Comments Off on ForageCast: Summer Chanterelles|

ForageCast: First Morels of the Season

Our first morel find of 2017 – pictured is one of two chubby yellow morels we spotted yesterday morning in downtown Burlington, VT.

The season’s first morels, even if growing in highly questionable soil in downtown Burlington, always are a true sight to behold. Jenna, right out the passenger seat window as we were parking, spotted two plump yellow morels on woodchips among dog-doo and debris.

We gazed out the window at the majestic morels, knowing we would not eat these urban fruits but that their presence was a sign of a delightful season to come. Morels have burst into season with gusto, with Vermont flushes reported from Barre to Burlington to the Northeast Kingdom. In higher spots or mountain areas throughout New England you should not expect good flushes for another couple weeks. But in warmer microclimates, even up through New Hampshire and Maine, we’re again reaching the season when we foragers begin our pursuit of the elusive and exquisite morel.

Of course, it’s not just one species of morel we’re looking for – yellows and blacks are equally delicious, and rare and diminutive half-frees are tasty, too. Michael Kuo and collaborators describe 19 DNA-distinct species of North American morels in their 2012 study, an impressive number of outstanding morel variations. Region of harvest is an important factor in keying out morphologically similar morel specimens. It makes the wildcrafter wonder about terroir and flavor, and the need for further studies (sign me up!) exploring the taste of the myriad species and sub-subspecies of gourmet wild mushrooms in North American forests.

But don’t forget – diversity of false morels is also phenomenal. As a rule, do not eat false morels, or any “morel” which does not have a completely hollow, contiguous cavity from tip to tail. The Verpa and Gyromitra false morels may be most likely to confuse foragers – neither has the signature hollow cavity of a true morel.

The stakes are high, but morels are unbelievably good and maddeningly fun to find. True morels are distinctive once you find them in the field with an expert forager and master a few key ID characteristics including the hollow stem. And if you’re ever in doubt, morels are one mushroom any forager would be happy to take off your hands for you!


By |May 5th, 2017|ForageCast, Morels|Comments Off on ForageCast: First Morels of the Season|

ForageCast: Fall’s Fleeting Mycological Treasures

Lion's mane and maple leaves

Lion’s mane and maple leaves

Camouflaged among the freshly fallen maple leaves, autumn mushrooms are thriving in the wet woods. The long-awaited rains – slow, steady, and abundant – arrived just before a looming frost that threatens to put the mushrooms to bed for the season.

Fall foraging has a different tenor and flavor from summer hunting – diversity of gourmet edibles is down and with splashes of color everywhere it can be easy to overlook mycological treasures. No longer can you traipse through the woods with a broad, sweeping gaze, waiting for the signature golden hue of chanterelles or the fiery orange of a lobster to jump out from the brown duff.  You may walk a mile only to spot a few pithy entolomas, when suddenly a thousand-strong legion of honey mushrooms or a heavy, bug-free trio of king boletes sends you reeling.  You might check one hundred ancient oaks and find nothing but slippery acorns, but keep pressing on – the next oak tree, seemingly no different than the rest, could hold enough maitake to carry your family through the winter.

I love late season hunting; you can taste the crisp, starlit nights and heavy morning dew in each bite of blewit. You can smell clean October air and fresh mountain mist in every morsel of lion’s mane. Each hunt carries the weight of knowing it might be the season’s last as the daylight dwindles and winter falls upon the land.

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: The Ox Tongue on the Oak Tree

Beefsteak mushroom

Like a crimson tongue shooting up from the scorched earth, scouring for moisture, the beefsteak polypore commanded my attention. Also called the ox tongue, the beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica) is a beguilingly beautiful polypore that I almost never find, let alone on a bone-dry August afternoon.

But there they were, two vibrant slabs of red meat at the base of a dead oak, undeniably resembling fresh cuts of their bovine namesake. Candidly, I have never tried the beefsteak – I rarely see it and, when I do, I typically prefer to leave it on the tree.

This time, though, the timing was just right, and I took an ox tongue home with me. Opinions as to the culinary merits of this species vary – I will be experimenting with a few different preparations and will report back.

In the meantime, the weather is shifting. Yesterday’s rains triumphantly broke the drought, and the coming week promises bucketsful of rain and mushrooms!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!


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