Morel mushrooms -- the mere mention of morels conjurs up images of ancient mushroom hunts with Grandpa, and fires the neurons in my brain that hold memories of the incredible pleasure experienced when savoring a perfectly fried morel.
Yep. I guess you can tell I love morel mushrooms!
Whether they are the small grayish variety, or the larger creamy yellow ones, the morel is something special. I've spent countless hours and hiked many miles looking for the fantastic fungus, and I've never found enough. Even when coming home with a large bagful, I always wish I'd found more.
Now just so you know, I've never smoked morels, and haven't grilled any morels either. But I do think a person could set a little cast iron skillet over a grill burner and fry up some morels in bacon grease with no problem. You might even toss in a foil packet of wood chips to give the fried morels a hint of smoky flavor. But that's not what this page is about. It's about memories and my most recent mushroom hunt…
It rained cats and dogs all day yesterday, finally letting up about 8 AM this morning. I figured it would be a good time to check out my favorite spots, so I headed into the woods here at the home place in Northeast Kansas. I know these woods well, having traipsed through the hilly oak, ash, elm and walnut woodlands from the age of around 10 to present… over 40 years.
Many of the trees stand out in my memory, like the group of tall red oaks, that I christened, in my mind at least, Valley of the Giants. The oaks are on the lower part of a hillside that drops down to Dead Dog Creek, another name of my doing. And just over the fence at the very back of the half-mile deep property is a smallish hickory tree that has a unique twist. It's about 6 inches in diameter, and grows straight up for about 2 feet. It makes a 90 degree turn, growing horizontally for another couple of feet. And then, it rises straight up again. It makes a dandy little natural chair that comes in handy when needed. The tree might be a shagbark hickory, but for me, it's a little too young to tell. Weird thing is, that the horizontal section points straight North. Coincidence? Or did someone bend it on purpose years ago as a marker? I'll never know for sure.
Anyway, more about this morning's attempt at finding morels…
Walking into the woods, I looked for trees where I thought morel mushrooms might be growing, wading through the patches of buckbrush and whatever else was just starting to grow again after the winter cold. Heading east to the barn, where one morel was found last week, there was nothing. Then turning south, I walked past several old haunts that usually held a few choice morels.
Not too far into the woods from the pasture, there used to be a big old dead elm tree, and you could count on almost always finding some morels there. But now, all that's left of the tree is a small, barely perceptable pile of rotted humus. And there were no mushrooms to be found. But I did see this box turtle. Kind of odd, the way its color is sort of like the color of yellow morels. Got a little excited there for a second…
Heading farther south, I passed some oak and ash trees where I remember finding a few big yellow morels one time, about 20 years ago, but not today. Dang!
One of the nice things about hunting morel mushrooms is you never know what you'll see along the way. Even though the woods were a little sparse, the redbud trees were in full bloom. Pretty, huh?
A little farther on, I arrived at the old spring. My grandpa took a lot of time making improvements there, digging into the hillside and placing a section of culvert in place so the water flowed out easily, falling into a muddy, leaf lined pool. Just below the spring there used to be another dead elm mushroom-tree. But it's also long gone, and sadly, there were no mushrooms there today. This is a picture of the spring water as it flows the rest of the way down the hill.
When I made it down to the bottom of the hill, my eyes found another interesting object… a pile of turkey poop. It may not interest you, but turkeys have only been in these parts for the last 10 years or so, so finding one of their roosting trees is always kind of cool. I made the image on the page small just to be less disgusting (that is, if you find turkey poop disgusting). If you want to see it up close and personal, just click on the pic.
Past the poop, I made it to the large redbud tree with the gnarly burls on its trunk. And hidden in the patch of buckbrush near its base, I found a few morels! Alright, success at last! I was too excited to snap a pic of the morels before I picked them, but did manage to get a picture of the burls on the redbud tree.
I figured it was time to turn around and head back up the hill towards home. At the base of another tree, a walnut I think, there was a humongous ant hill, with little ant crawling around every which way. The base of the tree was about a foot in diameter, for perspective's sake.
When I made it back the house, I had my prize in hand. The morel mushrooms were all still pretty fresh, clean, and looking more tempting by the moment. I split them lengthwise, soaked them in salt water for a while to kill the bugs and float them off, and then dried them. A little egg wash, a coating of flour, and a hot pan of bacon grease took care of the rest.
I just about had to smoke a cigarette when I finished eating them…
Even though I found only a few morel mushrooms, and got totally excited eating them, the greatest pleasure was in walking through the spring woods, seeing all the things that will soon be hidden by the leaves and thick underbrush. Glad I get a chance to do it once or twice a year. And if you tried hunting for morels before, it's something I highly recommend you try. And if you want to learn more, check out these morel mushroom hunting tips that will teach you how to find those luscious morsels.
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