Ozark Gold: Harvesting Morel Mushrooms

By Leah
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It is said that April showers bring May flowers. But that’s not all they bring. For those of us in the Ozarks, the first few weeks of April have us scouring our woods for the elusive morel mushroom. There is nothing like it for flavor, and the hunt is half the fun. I’ve even heard it described as ‘an Easter egg hunt for adults.’ And not only are these spongy fungi great-tasting, they are very pricey. This year, I actually saw some up for sale online for $35 a pound!

We had always had a good ‘crop’ of morels on Old Home Farm, until the ice storm of 2009. We’ve had ice storms before, but nothing like that one. It took down large old trees, destroyed forests, and knocked out the power in our area for 14 days. I admit to weeping over the oaks, walnuts, and sycamores we lost. They were like old friends to me. And their demise also destroyed large areas of prime mushroom habitation.

After a couple of years of empty-handed searching, we gave up and stopped looking. Then, just last month, a miracle happened: Greg was in the woods and looked down to find a HUGE morel by his foot. He picked it, came home for me and a string bag, and off we went. For two hours we gathered mushrooms.

We went to all of our old haunts, even though the trees were down, and only broken stumps were left. And there were the mushrooms, growing all around them as if nothing had even happened. I don’t remember ever getting such a haul. By the time we started for home I couldn’t lift the bag and Greg carried it over his shoulder.

Once home, I began the cleaning process. You must soak morels in cold salt water to draw out the tiny bugs that are found in the sponge-like surface. I had five 1-gallon jugs in my refrigerator, and that is after I gave some to both my son and my neighbor.

We ate mushrooms for days. I rolled them in cornmeal and fried them. I sauteed them in butter, I made soup, we ate them in omelets. In fact, we ate so many that Greg developed a mild case of gout. So out came the dehydrator and I stored up a large jar of dried mushrooms for future meals.

I don’t know if next year will be as good, but it’s nice to have them back on the land. A treat to look forward to for years to come.