Sautéed or in soup, morel mushrooms taste divine. Rarely taller than three or four inches, and a little less wide, these gray fungi pop out of the ground in Michigan in late April and early May for about two weeks. They are finicky: to sprout, they need lots of moisture and, paradoxically, sunshine. Even areas that in the past have proven to be mass producers of morels can inexplicably fail to yield a single mushroom in any given year. In my experience, these delectable little beauties are most commonly found in lightly wooded areas full of aspen or ash, but other prime spots include heavily forested areas and disturbed ground.
One particular location always comes to mind when I think of morels. Though I won’t provide directions to it (an offense that is practically sacrilege to any serious morel enthusiast), it’s located around a small swamp lined on one side by aspen and the occasional white pine and on the other by a loose cluster of ash. The ground, bumpy and tangled with tall grass and small brush, is soft underfoot, no doubt due to the nearby swamp. On sunny days, it’s beautifully dappled with sunlight. An enchanting place, this is the only area my family and I have ever found where, year after year, we fill entire bags with morels.
Last year, our first visit was too early: a small garter snake was the only thing of note we came across. When we returned a week and a half later, morels seemed tucked under every fallen leaf, clustered within every clump of grass. Under one small shrub, we found a silent, watchful, nesting grouse. We moved away as silently as possible, enchanted by our find.
Our haul ended up at about seventy-five bounteous morels. This was enough to fill a large bag and, that night, our stomachs.
Having experimented with different way of preparing morels when I was little, my mom prepared this batch in what is unquestionably our family’s favorite style – cleaned and cut in half, then sautéed in butter and sprinkled with salt. Divine! Though we all automatically reached for the largest, most juiciest ‘shrooms, oftentimes the most savory were the smaller halves.
Looking for morel mushrooms each spring is one of the greatest boons of living in northern Michigan. Finding them yields a delicious meal, but just spending time outside with my family on a relaxing hike in a beautiful environment is reward enough for the time spent searching.
-William Chown, YCC Member