Reader Melinda Young Stuart, of Barnardsville, N.C. took this photo, “First Morels,” of a trio of morel mushrooms she found along a path at a community park. Taken April 1, 2012.
These are my first-ever morel mushrooms (Latin name “Morchella”) found in the wild! Many people here in the country know and seek these fungi in the wild, but I never have, though I actively forage the garden and pasture for safe and healthy wild greens, including chickweed, chicory and purslane. “My” morels were growing right next to the walking trail at the Big Ivy Community Park, where I couldn’t miss them! This was a rather unusual place to find them; more commonly, they grow in forest leaf litter, especially under sycamore, tulip and old apple trees.
Be sure you know what you are doing when gathering AND BEFORE EATING ANYTHING from the wild. (See below for resources and standard disclaimer.) I checked these out thoroughly. The best test is “hollow stems.” True (that is to say “safe”) morels have them; “false” morels have stems filled with a substance that resembles cotton balls. They appear in yellow, black and white forms, and all are edible if they meet the tests, including “fresh” smell. If you are new to foraging, check several reputable sources and talk to someone with experience before consuming.
A large part of the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding morels is their fame among natural and so-called “gourmet” cooks and eaters. They are said to be a popular ingredient in south-of-France cuisine, and in Appalachia their colorful, old-time names – which include “hickory chickens,” “merkels” (for “miracles”) and “molly moochers” – give evidence that they have long been known and appreciated by the mountain folk of our region. They are delicious sauteed in butter or added to soup.
Wikipedia has a very useful and informative page devoted to “Morchella.” Any good mushroom or fungi field guide should also be consulted.
My photograph was shot with my trusty, much-loved Olympus hybrid, the SP500UZ, on a bench outside my house. I had to take a picture! I might never find one again! Photo data: aperture: f4, shutter speed: 1/1000 sec., focal length: 6mm.
There are many local resources, guides and people that can help you locate and identify edible mushrooms. Always consult an expert, an experienced mushroom forager, field guides and/or other trusty sources before consuming any wild fungi. Contact poison control if you believe you’ve made an identification error.
Here’s a few resources to consider:
- The Asheville Mushroom Club, thought to be one of the largest and oldest mushroom clubs in the country, will host a morel foraging event on April 11 in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is open to members of the club. Contact the club for more information.
- Visit No Taste Like Home, for foraging events and information. Directed by “Mushroom Man” Alan Muskat, the organization will host a morel hunt on April 14 in Walnut, N.C. More information can be found at the site, including how to register.