Morel Mushroom Alert: The Heat's On -- Hunt Early This Year, Says the Mushroom Lady

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Morel mushrooms usually bloom in the central US with the onset of their "signal trees." The current heat wave is bringing on the bloom way early. Morel hunters, primed for April-May, may be combing the woods within the next few weeks if the heat holds. Sandra Williams, The Mushroom Lady, of Lost Creek (Shiitake) Mushroom Farm and her husband Doug, discuss how to find, cook, and enjoy the wild morel mushroom.

Wild Morel Mushroom

BUTTERSCOTCH MORELS

Heat together equal amounts of brown sugar and butter (or butter mixed with olive oil), until the sugar is melted. Then cook the morels in it until they're tender. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Morchella esculenta, one of the best-tasting, most popular wild mushrooms, is beginning its spring "fruiting" season early this year, according to Sandra Williams of Lost Creek Mushroom Farm. "Morel mushrooms are the easiest wild mushroom to identify, even for a beginner," said Williams, known on the Web as The Mushroom Lady.

Morels (pronounced mor-ELLs) are cone-shaped, like Christmas trees. Williams continued, "The mushroom is textured like a sponge, with ridges and pits. The caps may be tan, brown, ivory or a tawny yellow color. When you cut them open, both the cap and the stem are hollow.”

In Oklahoma, where Lost Creek Mushroom Farm is located, morels usually appear in late April to mid-May, with the first good rain after their "signal tree," the redbud, blooms. Other signal trees include dogwoods, specific fruit trees and lilacs. Morel lovers look for wildflower blooms in the woods as an indicator that their prized mushrooms will soon appear through the leaves and needles on the forest floor.

The signal tree is specific for each area of the country. The Mushroom Lady suggests contacting farmers and mushroom hunters or county agricultural extension agents for local signal trees and normal morel fruiting times.

"It’s very unusual for the redbuds to blossom this early,” Williams said. "This comes as a complete surprise."

    Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Stu Ostro reported, "Given how early in the season this is happening, the current and upcoming pattern is extraordinary for its combination of how high the temperatures are, how expansive the warmth is, its persistence day after day after day, and how far north it's going to reach."

Lost Creek Mushroom Farm grows shiitake mushrooms on hardwood logs. "Our shiitakes are pushing out by the hundreds, as their optimal spring temperatures, 70s and 80s, have triggered early fruiting. Normally they rest over the winter and build up their energy to fruit naturally all spring. I wonder if they've had had sufficient rest.”

Where do you find morels? "The first morels show up in low areas after the first rains," according to The Mushroom Lady’s husband, shiitake mushroom farmer and morel hunter Doug Williams. "As more warm rains fall, they'll be growing higher up."

There are no hard and fast rules about where to find morsels of morels, and successful gatherers usually keep their hunting grounds a closely guarded secret. Morels can grow anywhere. They like elms, dead elm roots, apple trees, Jerusalem artichokes, and fence rows. They can be found at the edges of woods, in open woods and in yards and fields. One type seems to prefer burned-over ground.

"Morels have reproductive cycles that can last ten to twelve years," Doug Williams said, "so they can grow in a place for several seasons, then not appear there again for years."

To prepare morels, Williams cuts them in half and either brushes them with a soft brush or soaks them in salt water to get rid of any small insects inside the mushrooms. The morels can be sautéed in butter with salt and pepper or dipped in seasoned flour or in egg and flour and fried in butter. “These are great ways to fix morels,” he said, “but my favorite is butterscotch morels.”

Lost Creek Mushroom Farm makes grow-your-own shiitake log kits. For shiitake recipes and information about growing mushrooms, visit http://www.shiitakemushroomlog.com or call 1-800-792-0053 for a free brochure. A portion of their sales benefits Mushrooms in Ghana Project, assisting small-scale oyster mushroom farmers in West Africa to increase production and profits, feed their families and communities, and diversify crops with shiitake mushroom log production.

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