On morel grounds: Spotting (and cooking) the rare spring mushroom

·3 min read
Morels only grow in the wild and are available for just a short time in spring. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)
Morels only grow in the wild and are available for just a short time in spring. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)

Morel mushroom season is here in Ontario, but it won't last long.

If you're out and about in the woods and see an odd-looking mushroom growing in a seemingly random place, take a closer look — it might be a morel.

Morel mushrooms aren't like other wild mushrooms that grow in the region — they're edible and considered by many to be a delicacy.

Morels can't be farmed like other mushroom varieties because they have a complex, symbiotic relationship with trees that cannot be replicated in an artificial environment. So, every morel that you eat has to be hand picked in the wild.

Windsor, Ont., resident Brooke Robinson agreed to take CBC News out to his family's morel patch.
Windsor, Ont., resident Brooke Robinson agreed to take CBC News out to his family's morel patch.(Mike Evans/CBC)

The trick is finding them. Once you do, there's a high likelihood the morels will grow back in the same place the following year, because they're the reproductive organ of the underground mycelium that remains after the morel is picked.

Since morels normally return to the same location annually, morel foragers tend to be secretive about the location of their favourite hunting spots. In some families, the locations of morel hot spots are passed down from generation to generation.

Windsor resident Brooke Robinson has been hunting morels since he was six years old.

Brooke agreed to take the CBC's Mike Evans to his family's ancestral morel patch, only if he agreed to not divulge the location to others.

After a short hike into the forest, Brooke was spotting morels with a well-seasoned eye. In less than an hour, he had managed to locate and pick a dozen fine-looking mushrooms.

Morels shrink up quite a bit after cooking.
Morels shrink up quite a bit after cooking.(Mike Evans/CBC)

Robinson said one of the secrets to locating morels is to look closely at fallen and rotting trees. Another tip is you have to be patient.

"If you find one, there is a good chance that there are others nearby," he said.

Morel season is only here for a short time; they come up from the ground in early May and in a few weeks, will have rotted away or been eaten by deer.

Cooking tips

Once you have your morels picked, the next step is to let them soak in water for approximately an hour. Morels may have insects inside and if you leave them in water, that will flush the bugs out.

After they're done soaking, dry them off with a towel and clean any remaining dirt or sand off by hand.

Then cut them into halves or quarters, depending on how big they are.

After they are cut, place them into a frying pan on medium heat, and add butter and garlic.

Fry the morels until they turn dark brown around the edges. You will notice that they shrink down quite a bit when they are fried.

"They make a great appetizer and pair really well with steak," said Robinson.

Safety first

A safety note to foragers: It may go without saying, but many species of wild mushroom are poisonous. A 2019 Ontario Public Health report said over 1,000 calls were made to the Ontario Poison Centre related to consuming mushrooms over a recent five-year period.

"There are no simple tests to determine if a mushroom is poisonous. Safe consumption of wild mushrooms and other wild foods requires they be correctly identified by knowledgable harvesters," the report stated.

While the morel is distinctive in appearance, its look is not unique in the mushroom world. This web page from the state of Michigan describes a few inedible morel look-alikes.

"False morels should be considered poisonous and not eaten," the website states.