April showers bring… mushrooms? April showers and warm nights make morels (muh-rells) grow and send folks to their favorite mushroom-hunting spots; as morels seem to pop up overnight, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
A wet spring is often the key to a good mushroom year. But a string of nights when the temperature is at or above 50 degrees is the real trigger. Generally, the season lasts four to six weeks. Hot, dry weather quickly ends the season, while cool, moist weather can prolong it to mid-May. Old-timers say that “when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear then that’s the time to look for morels,” and this usually corresponds with the soil temperature.
Watch for morels growing on the ground. The top or cap looks something like a sponge, with a shape like a tiny Christmas tree. The stem is thick, and when sliced, the whole mushroom is hollow. Three species are commonly found in our area, so morels will vary in color from gray to tan or yellow. They come in a variety of sizes, but most average three to four inches tall. Look for morels in moist woods, river bottoms, and on south-facing slopes. They’re often found near dead elm trees, in old orchards, or burned areas.
As with any wild edible, be sure you can identify morels before eating them. Morel mushrooms are rich in potassium and low in calories. They must be cooked before eating. Morels will contribute flavor and texture to a variety of dishes and appetizers and can be frozen or dried to preserve for later use.
Most wild mushrooms are much tastier than typical grocery store selections, but there is no test to determine edible versus poisonous mushrooms. The only way to tell if a mushroom is edible is by positive identification. If you’re not 100% positive of the ID, don’t eat it. When in doubt, throw it out. Either tag along behind an experienced morel hunter or take a good reference book along on your hunt.
To learn more about mushrooms:
Go to workshops and forays. Join a mushroom club. You’ll see lots of mushrooms and learn what the identifying features are. Experts will help with your questions and recommend field guides and other resources.
Collect and identify what you think is the same species repeatedly. Some mushrooms change appearance dramatically as they mature or even in different seasons.
For more on mushroom identification, visit MDC’s website and check out the Guide to Mushrooms at nature.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/page/MushroomGuide.pdf