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One of my favorite things about reading and writing historical novels is discovering how the pioneers did things in the olden days. There are so many lost traditions waiting to be rediscovered in dusty books and cobwebbed memories. I'm honored that I get to help preserve these traditions and arts for future readers with my writing.
Living off the land has been something my family has practiced for generations and learning to forage morel mushrooms is one of these practices. One of our favorite things about April is morel season. Growing up, we didn't take family vacations, my father worked all year long, but one thing we did was go morel hunting.
It always reminded me of an Easter egg hunt, except we were searching for mushrooms and it lasted longer. We eagerly searched the leaf carpeted forest floor for signs of the mushroom, hollering in excitement when a morel was spotted beneath its hiding place.
Foraging also helps cut back on the grocery bill. Morel mushrooms come up in the spring after a good warm rain. They like to be moist and grow under last years leaves. Morel's are found among stands of Cottonwood trees here in the forests of Washington State.
When the stinging nettles are starting to pop up, you know the morel's are following suit. Morel's will grow quickly, so we check every three days or so once the signs are out. The first one is usually hard to spot, but once you've found one, your eye becomes trained. I scan the ground in a grid like pattern, starting a few feet in front of me and then moving out.
If you find one, look close, they usually always have a mate. Carefully, cut or pinch off the morel, leaving the stem in tact. This way, the root stays in the ground and will produce again. If you pull up the stem and roots, you've just cut into future harvests. Many folks like to carry mesh bags so the spores repopulate the area.
Don't fill your bag to full, or you'll squish the mushrooms in the bottom. Morel's also like to grow in areas that have had forest fires. Morel's come in all sorts of colors from black, yellow, and white. I've not found a black morel here.
Once you find a good hunting spot, guard it. Most folks won't share as they're hard to come by. Also, when hunting morel's, please follow common courtesy and don't hunt where there is no trespassing signs or on private property without permission. You'd be surprised how many people don't follow this.
If you've never hunted morel's try and find and experience hunter or take a field guide. There is a poisonous form of false morel pictured in this link, though I've never seen it, the article says it does grow in North America. I've been picking morels for over 25 years and none of my family or neighbors have ever experienced any ill effects.*
When you get your morel's home, you must soak them overnight. They grow in the forest and do sometimes contains small bugs or worms. If you can see lots of worms or bites, then discard or don't pick that mushroom. Put mushrooms in a bowl of cold water and sprinkle with salt. Make sure they're completely covered and store them overnight in the fridge.
In next week's post, I'll show you how to prepare and cook them.
*Disclaimer-this post is strictly for educational purposes. We are in no way liable if you pick morels or any other mushroom and become sick or suffer from any type of reaction or illness. Please pick responsibly.
Do you forage any edibles? Have you ever hunted morels before?
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.