With a can of OFF in one hand and a crumpled up sack in my back pocket, it's time to take to the woods in search of one of Mother Nature's remarkable edibles. To many people, myself included, they are worth the price of gold. The smell of them, coated in egg and cracker crumbs, crackling in butter makes my mouth water and my tummy rumble. If you haven't guessed it already, what I consider to be springtime gold is the remarkable tasting morel mushroom.
With spring showing her face weeks ahead of schedule, she also brought the morel mushroom along with her. Seeing the canopy in the timber changing from its dull, open, brown color to a green tint, is a great reminder that it is time to head to the woods.
The morel mushroom is an edible fungus that grows in Iowa's woodland habitat every spring. There are many opinions on where the mushrooms like to grow, but one common factor is the elm tree. Back in the 1960's most of Iowa was devastated by the effects of the Dutch elms' disease. The Dutch elms' disease ravaged cities and parks all over the U.S. But one blessing the disease has brought us is a high abundance of dead and dying elm trees. And the bounty under those dead elms', is a great opportunity to harvest bags and bags of morel mushrooms. The Dutch elms' disease is spread from tree to tree by a bark beetle so therefore the disease hasn't eradicated the elm species all together. So needless to say we will always be blessed with a population of dying elms to gather mushrooms from.
Springtime gold is out there!
Photo by Kevin Williams
The morel mushrooms in Iowa usually come in two different kinds. The earlier mushroom is called the gray morel, which is smaller in size and features a gray color. To many people the flavor of the gray morel mushroom is a little stronger taste. The later morel mushroom that frequents Iowa is the yellow morel mushroom. The yellow morel is usually larger is size, and is gold in color. Quite often the yellows can reach the size of a soda can and sometimes even larger. It's not uncommon to fill your bag with both varieties in a single trip to the woods.
One thing every novice mushroom hunter needs to know is that not every mushroom Mother Nature offers is edible. There are many mushrooms that are extremely toxic and can even be fatal. So if you are a first time "shroomer," I highly recommend you take to the woods with an experienced mushroom hunter, and have them show you exactly which ones to harvest. Another essential before taking to the woods this time of year is to spray your legs down with OFF or any other bug repellant containing DEET. The DEET products will assist in repelling ticks. Even after spraying yourself I would high recommend checking yourself and your clothing once you have returned from the woods. With ticks a carrier of lyme's disease, it is something to take very seriously, but don't let this little risk turn you away from the huge reward that lies there for the picking.
Some of my earliest memories in the woods are picking mushrooms with my mother and father. I can still remember hiking through the forest, gazing at the forest floor hoping to eye the prize before anyone else. So I encourage you to take your kids out there and make it a memory that they will take with them forever.