As spring approaches, the ground begins to warm up and the plants begin to grow — a tasty treat emerges from beneath. Many of you may already know of this elusive nutrient packed food, others, maybe not so much. My family and I have found that around Easter is when the best picking comes to fruit — at least on the west side of the state. I have not explored enough of the east side of the state during this time of harvest to know exactly where to find them or what time of the year is best for the first picking but I have reached out to others who do for advice.
This amazing treat that when most see it, they see a creepy looking brain. Others, a select few, see fried up deliciousness. This is a mushroom, the Morel mushroom!
If you know about these tasty treats then you probably have a few spots that you like to go back to or at least check out each year, but some of us are newer to the game. I first learned of Morel mushrooms from my in-laws. My in-laws love to go on a walk and explore the places they call home. On the east side of the state I have not spent much time looking for them in the spring, it seems to always be the time of year to start projects and get the house ready for the warmer weather. But on the west side of the state, around Easter after the snow melts, rain falls and the sun starts to peek through the canopy to warm up the ground.
A crucial thing that needs to happen in order for the Morels to grow is that the ground temperature needs to reach between 50 and 60 degrees. But be careful to share your spots, morels are not always easily found and like many things from nature that take work to find in their organic state, they are valuable. You do not want to share your spots and have them overrun with other fanatic mushroom hunters just to be sold for over $20 for a pound. You do not have to be stingy, but share only with your closest of friends and family unless you do not care for them. I have heard that if a spot gets hit too hard, they don’t seem to be back the next year. Taking what you need, leaving some here and there helps promote new growth the following year.
What I Have Inquired
The questions, if you are interested are, where are they found? Where do I begin to look? If you’re in Western Washington, where I have found them, the advice I have gathered is to look in wet areas. Cottonwood trees seem to be the biggest tell sign. Find the trees (they usually) are in wet spots and make sure to tread lightly. They blend in so well. The light colored brown, and sometimes dark brown heads hide great amongst the many leaves and branches on the forest floor. It seems to be hard to find the first one, but once you do, your eyes become accustomed and boom there they are, almost like your eyes are growing them from the ground.
On the Eastern side of the state I have heard a variety of different things, though I have yet to find one — more because of a lack of trying. What I have learned is that burns are money. Fresh burns for some reason make them pop and remember how I mentioned them being hard to find? I can only imagine that those light brown heads among a black landscape is like seeing gold sitting on a black carpet. Beyond burns I have heard a few other places are good sources of an abundance of mushrooms. Near water, again, common theme. I have heard under cedar groves, but also near white firs and spruce trees. Additionally, most seem to find them later in the year, late April and into May. Try to find tight, generally more wet draws that let sunshine leak through but not enough to create a desert landscape.
Lastly, the big question, once you find a spot is it good forever? There seems to be a big debate about this question. Some think yes, others no, and some have come year after year and filled their bags. From my personal experience, there is an area in Western Washington that my wife’s parents have that they find them along the side of the trail, and in a few other pockets. They might not be exactly in the same spots (and how would we know), but they might be on the other side of the pond rather than the front where they were last year. Then the right side the year after. The little pocket ponds always have mushrooms but they seem to move about. Eastern Washington I have heard has had some in a spot for a couple years but then it seems that they begin to slowly peter out. I generally hear of those lower wetlands but on the contrary, some people have found them up above 3,000 feet in elevation as well.
One thing to make sure to do though is to cut them with a small sharp knife at the base of the stem, do not pull the whole mushroom plant out of the ground, to encourage regrowth, you want to leave part of it in the soil.
Get out there! Find those mushrooms. Just know it may take some time. But can you remember big cottonwood trees from your past adventures? Any ideas of places to start? Hopefully you have a few. Don’t take more than you need. Encourage those mushrooms to grow back each and every year. Pick a small bag full, come back a few days later and reap the benefits of more and more until the season starts to dry out.
One thing I learned from my in-laws is to rinse the mushrooms out, soak them for an hour or more. Fill up a bowl of water, drop the mushrooms in and let the water flush out the bugs and dirt. After that, either leave them whole, or like a lot of people, cut them in half. Bread them in whatever your heart fancies, we often use an egg, flour and seasonings, then, fry in oil in a skillet. After they have been rolled around, flipped a little, they are cooked, and enjoy — so delicious!
I hope you enjoy these amazing tasty treats that nature has to offer here in Washington and that those little nutrient packed goodies can add a new taste and food to your daily lives in the springtime. I hope it gives you only another thing to look forward to when you are dreaming about warmer weather and exploring this beautiful state.