The Great Morel Hunt
Morel mushrooms are famed throughout the culinary world as a rare delicacy-and they happen to grow right in our backyard. Not literally, but northern Michigan just happens to produce the earthy treat for several weeks each spring. Spring rains and warming temperatures in May result in forests full of the elusive morel. The National Morel Mushroom Festival has taken place the second week of May in Boyne City for nearly 60 years. The entire Petoskey area comes alive, with many restaurants creating special dishes around the morel, including the chefs at The Inn at Bay Harbor.
How to Pick the Perfect Morel
The woods are also full of imposters this time of year, but if you know what you're looking for, finding morel mushrooms becomes very easy. Morels are hollow; when you slice one open you will find an empty chamber. The cap of a morel is attached to its stem and has a pitted, rather than wavy appearance. Morels are often described as black, grey or white. If you pick a mushroom with a reddish brown color, don't eat it. False morels are out there as well this time of year. If you are in doubt as to what you've found is a morel, don't eat it. Better to be safe than sorry.
Morels tend to grow in clusters. If you find one, there are probably many more hiding all around you. Bring a mesh or paper bag to collect your prizes, and a small knife to harvest them cleanly. Don't pull the mushroom from the earth, pinch or cut the stem just above the ground. Look for hardwood forests, with elm, ash, sycamore, and cottonwood trees, as these tend to be the areas preferred by morels.
Preparing your Morels
Experts advise gently brushing or shaking the dirt and debris from your mushrooms and a quick swish in a bowl of clean water just before you are ready to cook them. These delicate mushrooms also dry easily and can be reconstituted whenever you wish to use them. Morels add an earthy, nutty flavor to soups, sauces, pastas and meat dishes. Dust your morels in flour and fry them in a little butter or oil, season to your liking and enjoy a crispy snack or chop them up and add a few to your breakfast omelet.
Whether you're a seasoned veteran or new to the mushroom hunt, you're sure to enjoy your time exploring the great outdoors. Happy Hunting!