A quest for the elusive morel mushroom

Service Berry Trees in bloom

Serviceberry Trees in bloom

Sometime in early April I decided this was the year that I would go traipsing around through the woods in search of morel mushrooms. “Wouldn’t that make a good blog entry?”, I thought to myself. Talk about delicious organic, locally-grown food. How perfect. I could even do a series of posts on different recipes and have a taste-off with my husband and a few friends. What fun.

I started my quest online, looking for information on these woodland treats. I learned all about their characteristics and how to identify them. I learned about mushrooms that are similar, but poisonous, so as not to pick the wrong kind. I learned about the various types of morels such as black, blond, gray and yellow. I learned about what kinds of bags you use to carry them out of the woods in, and why certain bags are preferred over others. I learned the proper way cut or pinch the morels when harvesting them so that the root system is not destroyed. I learned what a “honey hole” is and could imagine myself using that term every year after I had discovered my honey hole this spring. I looked at lots and lots of photos so that the image of a morel was branded in my brain. I found and bookmarked multiple sites devoted to these little treasures and joined a number of forums and I read and I read.

If I had devoted as much time as I had to learning about morel mushrooms to any other subject, I believe I would be an expert on that subject. However,  despite all the time I have invested in learning about morels, I am very far from being an expert. In fact, it seems like the more I read, the less I know.

May Apples

May Apples

After educating myself all about morels, the next question was, when do I head out and start hunting? Well, that was never really clear. It appeared that every morel hunter had their own thoughts on this subject. One person said, “As soon as the serviceberry trees bloom, I’m off.” Others said, “Go when you see the May apples open” or “They are out after a couple of warm rains.” “It all depends on when the trillium have bloomed, that’s when you start looking.” Yeah, I thought to myself, I totally know what may apples are, and trillium, and I know about the service berry tree. I’ve got this for sure!

And then, the final question: where do I go to find them (I hear you laughing)? “The woods” they say, “head to the woods”. So, somewhere around the third week in April, when I noticed the May apples popping up (but not open yet), I started my quest. I kind of knew it was a little early, but I was anxious to practice, so off to “the woods” I went with my husband, Chris. On my way there, and as we walked around the woods, I told him with great authority all I knew about the fungi. We didn’t find anything and both agreed it was too early, so we decided on another day later that week to look some more. In the meantime, I frantically scavenged online for more decisive information on where to find a morels.



I searched things like “best advice I received about morels hunting” and “morels Washtenaw County” in hopes of discovering some valuable information on where to look. The best I could find was a few folks from past years finding morels in some of the parks near my house. That was enough information to at least believe they existed near me. As for the “best advice”, well, it was to look under apple trees, or under dead ash and elm trees. I didn’t know of any abandoned apple orchards, only orchards on property owned by others. I wasn’t desperate enough, at that time, to trespass for a mushroom, so I focused on elm and ash trees. I did a little research on how to identify these trees and off we went again. I looked around the woods and tried to find trees that looked like the trees I had briefly researched so that I could show my husband what trees to look for. Frankly, without their leaves, they all looked pretty similar.

We walked and guessed and walked and looked under anything resembling a dead ash or elm tree, and any other other dead tree, just in case. Nothing. When we returned, we would say to each other that it was probably still too early or that maybe we weren’t in the right part of the park. We consoled ourselves with the saying “well, at the very least we had a nice walk in the woods.” We set out several more times, each time with me trying to add more information as to where they would grow but, frankly, my quest to find specific information on locating morels paralleled my actual quest for morels: Nothing. Zero. Nada.

I think I should change the blog title to “The quest for the elusive information on morel mushroom hunting.” This is more accurate.

So here it is, the second week in May. We have been to the woods at least half a dozen times by now. The forums are starting to show lots of folks in Southern Michigan, like Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, posting pictures of their finds. It was clear that they were up, I just needed to stay focused and look whenever I could. I thought about areas that weren’t parks but were public, like around schools. I found natural preserves to explore. I looked up Nature Conservancy sites and went to all of them feeling focused and sure. Each spot turned up exactly zero morels.

May 16, nothing.
May 17, zero.
May 18, demoralized and convinced that finding a snipe would be easier.

This has now become an obsession. I have devoted far too much time and energy to find one of those damn mushrooms. Starting May 20, my husband and I will be devoting all of our free time to planting our vegetable garden and my hunt for mushrooms will have to end. Plus, based on what I am reading in the forums, the season is just about over for this area. So, Thursday May 19th, we head out one last time. For this last trip I decided that I needed to learn even more about the ash tree; it was my best hope. I learned more about the bark and the way the branches look and about the buds and leaves. I looked up PDFs through Michigan State University on the dying ash trees and where they might be and how they looked as they died. I studied photos of the bark for each tree and how the branches formed. I even found a very detailed map of the Midwest that showed specific areas of concern for ash trees with regard to the the Emerald Ash Borer. Unfortunately, the entire Lower Peninsula of Michigan was grayed out because it was considered a total loss.

In one last ditch effort, I decided to go to Google maps and look at one of the parks near my house in satellite mode to see if I could identify an area in the woods that looked as if it had a lot of dead trees. I found an area that seemed like it might be good, and we set out one last time. Not 100 yards into the hike, we discovered that we were standing in the middle of a dead ash forest. It was a lucky guess. The area was thick with berry and rose bushes and very hard to get around. We bushwhacked up a hill and looked around every tree we passed. Just as I started heading down the other side of the hill there it was, one giant, beautiful, yellow morel two inches from my foot. Seeing it felt almost unreal. It was glowing from a spot of sunlight shining through the trees. I got my camera out and took a few photos of the 8 inch tall morel and grinned from ear to ear. We didn’t find any more morels that day but the one I did find was perfect enough to satisfy me.

Morel Mushroom

Morel Mushroom

It was sautéed in butter and added to a roasted asparagus pasta with lemon and chives and gobbled down faster than it took me to join my first morel mushroom forum. It was delicious!

If you are interested in the recipe, I can share that with you, but don’t ask me where I found that morel. I won’t tell you.

Morel and asparagus pasta

Morel and asparagus pasta

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4 Responses to A quest for the elusive morel mushroom

  1. Bru at #

    Congratulations on your beautiful morel! Your story really got me caught up in the hunt, and when you looked down and saw that morel, I got goosebumps. (Too bad I didn’t get morels. ewe. gross.)

  2. Becci ware at #

    Lol, I so know this feeling! I just told my husband the other day i could find more snipes! Lol nothing yet, and everyone else has plenty, but I’ll keep trying!

  3. breetalks at #

    Your dish looks delicious! Thanks for sharing.

  4. 3rd year out looking for me and last weekend I finally found a morel. It was my first time and like you, I only found 1. It was amazing just browned in butter with a dash of salt.

    I also have been looking for dead elms to hunt but I find a lot of trees have similar features and it can be hard to tell them apart. That strategy wasn’t producing a lot of results so I got to thinking that I’ve heard old apple orchards are supposed to be good hunting and around here (Toronto) in the fall I’m used to seeing TONS of rotting apples on the ground so those places should be good …right? Of course that was the fall and this is the spring so I couldn’t tell you exactly where any of those places are so I don’t know where to look.

    This year I am going to make an effort to make sure that every time I come across a place with a lot of rotting apples on the ground to book mark the location in my phone so next spring I will know where to hunt instead of wandering around mumbling “Is this an elm tree??”

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