By David Hotle, The JOURNAL
Washington County Conservation Director Steve Anderson admits that not everyone who finds morel mushrooms informs him, but he says that the numbers of people who have reported finding mushrooms is way down this year in what should be peak season.
A recent warm weather snap is usually what the elusive morels need to sprout, but Anderson said the moisture in the area this year has been low. He also said that humidity in the area has been about 50 percent, while ideal conditions for the mushrooms would have a much higher humidity. He said that people have found small mushrooms this year, but not in the numbers they normally do.
?People are having a hard time finding them,? Anderson said. ?People do tell me when they are having trouble and they are having trouble. The reports I?m getting are that it is a challenging year. For the people I?m talking to it is not going great. It is definitely not a banner year and I think it may be the opposite of that.?
He said that if the area gets some moisture soon, more mushrooms may still bloom.
The window of opportunity for people to gather the edible fungus is usually very narrow and many people seem to have a personal spot they always go to look for the mushrooms.
For many mushroom hunters, their sweet spots and their secrets for finding the mushrooms are as jealously guarded a secret as a special fishing hole or hunting spot. Anderson did pass along a few of his secrets to determine when mushrooms may be about ready to sprout.
?There are a ton of indicators,? he said. ?When the lilacs begin blooming, that is one indicator. When the oak tree leaves just start to open up, you know you are getting close.?
He also gave the indicator that when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel?s ear, morels will be in bloom.
The mushrooms are also hard to find, taking on the shape and color of a pile of curled dead leaves on the floor of the spring woods. The unique flavor of the mushroom is prized by chefs worldwide, with many recipes to prepare morels, as well as methods of preserving them, being very common.
Many county woodland areas are popular mushroom hunting grounds, including Brinton Timber and Sockum Ridge. Anderson said where timber burns have been done are great areas to look for morels.
While the odds are better on some private properties, Anderson warns mushroom hunters to be sure to get permission from the owner before looking for morels on private land. He said many property owners are becoming less willing to allow people to arbitrarily trespass on their land.
He also said it is a good idea for mushroom hunters to protect themselves from ticks. Also, he said, mushroom hunters should not disturb wildlife any more than they absolutely have to.
According to the website Index Fungorum, morels contain a small amount of the toxin hydrazine, which is destroyed when cooked. It is recommended morels not be eaten raw. Anderson said his favorite way of preparing the rare local delicacy is to just coat them in flour and roast them in butter.