Morels

ForageCast: Morels, with a Side of Arsenic

© Monica Donovan via 2013 photo shoot with Ari and Jenna

This proud forager has a confession to make – the closest I’ve come to a morel this spring was inadvertently stepping on a lone Gyromitra esculenta. It was a gruesome site, too – the convoluted, wrinkly flesh squished like a false morel pancake on the ground.

Up here in northern Vermont, peak morel season is only beginning. Veteran local forager Moore Mushrooms reported the region’s first black morel on May 7, but blondes are just starting to ripen this week. We were rained on heavily last weekend, and this week we have been blessed with the type of stunning, seasonal weather that summons morels and mosquitoes alike. Ramps are retreating, as Jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lily, trillium, and yellow lady’s slipper orchids bring sumptuous splashes of color to the sylvan stage.

But the big game is hiding in the shadows, at least for now. This is my third spring in Vermont, but as far as the morels are concerned, I am still a flatlander, a fledgling. I have an epic Vermont ramp patch, a chanterelle goldmine, even a riverside matsutake stronghold.

A good morel patch, however, can take years to find. Last spring I thought I had found my honey hole, a spectacular showing that made me feel like a morel millionaire. But as much as I love morels, I prefer them without a side of arsenic. My morel Mecca, it turned out, was uncomfortably close to a superfund site. And so it goes.

How does it feel, you might ask, to return your hard-earned treasure to the dank May ground? I submit to you that it feels better than suffering arsenic poisoning. While classic mycorrhizal fungi like chanterelles, black trumpets, and porcini tend to favor pristine woodland habitats, morels often pop up from disturbed ground. The well-known affinity of yellow morels for old apple orchards is particularly concerning. Fruit trees were routinely sprayed with lead arsenate throughout the 20th century, until it was replaced by the equally unsavory DDT in the ’50s and ultimately banned from orchards in 1988.

More research is needed to determine the extent to which morels and other fungi uptake heavy metals from contaminated soils. In the mean time, my quest for a pristine and plentiful Vermont morel patch continues.

ForageCast - 5-14-12

Northeastern ForageCast through mid-June!

Spring Foray Photoshoot with Ari and Jenna

© Eve Event Photography

We always enjoy receiving notes from blog readers, workshop participants and fellow mushroom enthusiasts. When local Vermont photographer Monica Donovan contacted us earlier this year asking if she could accompany us on a foray for a personal wildcrafting photography project, we gladly welcomed her along.

Many thanks to Monica for these photographs taken amongst the ramps and morels on an early May evening.

© Eve Event Photography   © Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

ForageCast: Morels Move On

Morels

Even up in Vermont we have arrived at the tail end of morel season. I am still spotting plenty of morels, but they are bloated and waterlogged, the neglected victims of slugs, snails, heat, and torrential rain.

It may be too late to harvest morels for the table, but now is the time to lay first claim to undiscovered spots for next year. The rugged remains of blacks and yellows can reach epic proportions, sometimes swelling to more than a foot tall and serving as “flags”. For a brief window, these typically compact and concealed creatures are unusually vulnerable to being spotted by foragers.

It can be frustrating to reel in a massive catch only to find it dead on the line, but you will be thankful next spring when you know exactly where to start your search. Even prime spots may take a year or two fruiting hiatus, but insider knowledge of the morel landscape is crucial if you want to have the earliest, freshest, and heftiest finds.

If you’re lucky, some of your spots may unexpectedly multiply. Just two days after the first warm rains this spring, I returned to a patch where I had found a dozen morels last year. I managed to spot several barely visible mini-morels that I never would have seen unless I knew exactly where to look. I was already a satisfied forager, but when I returned two days later I found myself staring at a hundred-strong harvest that seemed to know no limits. Just another day in the life of a forager…

In other news, the soils are soaking as the southern part of the region gears up for chanterelle season. King stropharias are fruiting uncontrollably, devouring mulch and leaving fluffy earth in their wake. Oysters are popping out of poplar as leathery Dryad’s saddle flushes wither and are forgotten. Meanwhile, in dark hemlock groves baby reishi are developing their signature glossy red varnish, their tender white growing tips at the perfect stage for a healing and savory sauté. I even spotted a crown-tipped coral mushroom in Burlington, which means chicken-of-the-woods, giant puffballs, and scaber-stalk boletes can’t be far behind.

Some spots may currently be too wet for mushrooms, which is practically unheard of. The mycelium must feel like it is taking a nice long bath. I wouldn’t bet my morels on it, but I have a feeling this foraging season is going to put last year’s to shame.

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Motivated by Morels

motivated-by-morels

The alarm was set for 8am, but we awoke at 5:45 to the gentle pitter-patter of rain. I rolled over and tried to fall back asleep, but Jenna was already riled up and rearing to go. The morels were summoning us. We listened.

I poured hot water over fresh coffee grounds, grabbed a to-go mug, and threw on my raincoat. The car thermometer read 61 degrees, prime morel range, as we sped off towards a yellow patch just outside city limits. I slugged down the rest of my coffee, and by the time we parked the car I was already in a frenzy. Only 36 hours had passed since the first rain shower that had disrupted the dry spell, and I feared we might be too early.

Morel hunting is not for the faint of heart. It is a high stakes enterprise, requiring an immense investment of time and energy. And of course, there is never any guarantee that you will find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, even when the conditions seem most favorable.

I grew dizzy as we approached our spot. A quick scan of the ground revealed no obvious lumps or protrusions. I reassured myself that if there were morels, they would still be in their infancy, and would not be readily visible. I hunched over and began closely inspecting the ground, and suddenly a minute flash of pale yellow caught my eye. My stomach lurched, but before I could cry out triumphantly I noticed my find had tentacles. It turns out snails enjoy a nice spring rain just as much as morels do.

I started questioning my sanity, wondering why I struggle and strive so relentlessly only to find garden snails pathetically nibbling on grass. I thought of the mediocre 2012 foraging season, and wondered if this year would be any better. Jenna was off in the distance, gaze fixed on the ground, but the wide-eyed eagerness that had launched us out of bed this morning was gone. I wished we had waited another day.

“Ari. Ari? Ari!” The familiar sound of my name interrupted my brooding, and I figured Jenna was ready to head back home. Her tone was casual but confident, her voice hushed yet firm as I started walking in her direction. And then came the loudest whisper I have ever heard: “Morel!”

In Jenna’s hand lay the most dainty, pristine yellow morel I have ever seen. She had out-foraged me once again, but this was no time for petty competition. More mini-morels lurked just steps away, barely poking up above the blades of grass. Before I could even get a full head-count, Jenna had yanked me away from the spot. It was tempting to harvest them today, but we knew we had to wait at least another 24 hours to allow the bite-sized morsels to fatten up.

Hoping to watch the NBA playoff games this weekend? Or perhaps you fancy a few rounds of bowling to escape the rain? Drop all your plans and start hunting – the time is now.

Morel Lust

Black Morel

The news came in last night, just as the sun was sinking into Lake Champlain. “Hey, hey, hey! Found my first blacks today!!!” Local forager Moore Mushrooms was starting off the season right, somehow managing to find the proverbial needle in the parched and sprawling haystack. We added morels to the ForageCast on Monday, but with the caveat that only a good rainstorm would send these finicky fruiters up from the earth. Moore must have been out at his secret spots with a watering can, lovingly coaxing those blacks out of the ground. His harvest was modest, but enough to send me into a frenzy.

We grabbed a flashlight and drove off to check on an abandoned parking lot where we had just missed a collection of bloated blacks last spring. Our spot was barren, our disappointment palpable. In a pathetic last resort attempt, I got down on hands and knees and started frantically scouring a nearby cluster of aspen. My forager’s eyes became feeble as darkness fell on the old parking lot, so I started clawing at the ground and hoping to feel a cool, moist morel jump into my greedy grasp. This technique did not catch me any morels, but I almost scored some exciting bycatch – an impressively large dog turd. That was when I knew it was time to call it a day.

We returned home and retreated to the computer, telling ourselves Moore’s find had been an anomaly and hoping to forget about morels until the next rainfall. Jenna opened her inbox only to find an email from a friend who had expressed interest in taking one of our workshops this season. Without even searching, she had stumbled upon yellow morels right outside of Burlington. “I spotted about 10-15, but didn’t pick any,” she nonchalantly reported. I’ll just call it beginner’s luck.

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.